Given that Hawaii is the most isolated archipelago on Earth, a non-resident would probably assume that thousands of miles of ocean would serve as a sufficient barrier against the spread of contagious diseases. This assumption is, of course, a fallacy as 2017 has been filled with outbreaks, and the diseases that have induced them range from norovirus to rat lungworm and hepatitis A. However, the disease that has most recently troubled Hawaii is the mumps.
Typically, Hawaii only sees ten or fewer cases of mumps annually, but as of Dec. 7, a total of 685 cases have been reported, equivalent to a staggering 6000% increase. This is a worrying statistic for many given that the disease impairs the basic function of eating due to swelling of the parotid salivary glands. Also, within 24 hours of onset, internal temperature can climb to 104℉, and if the disease is not effectively controlled, complications such as inflammation of the brain and genitals can occur as well as permanent deafness. In addition to mumps’ typical symptoms, the fact that the virus can lay dormant within the body for 14-24 days makes the disease even more grave given that there are zero indicators of its presence during this incubation period.
Many experts are stumped by such a rapid increase in the number of cases. Emergency Medicine Dr. Robert Ruggieri from Island Urgent Care believes that a lack of immunization is a contributor. “The only way to get rid of disease is to have people get booster shots. People who don’t get these shots are responsible for epidemics like this. The number one [priority] is to make sure everybody is vaccinated,” he said. State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park shares a similar sentiment, but speculates that above all the main factor is stubborness. Many people who have mumps are not ill to the point where they are forced to stay at home, and thus they serve as a vector for the disease, coughing and sneezing in the vicinity of healthy individuals. “Most sneezes or coughs within six feet can still carry the virus,” said Ruggieri. “The way you protect yourself is to cover your mouth, avoid touching your face, and washing your hands frequently.”
Although mumps is now present in Hawaii, Kaiser students may still perceive the disease as a non-immediate threat. However, such a mentality could become a hazard itself as one can never predict where mumps will show up next due to its initial dormancy. Anyone who has contracted mumps should stay at home since the disease is highly contagious. “A person is considered most contagious 1 to 2 days before the jaw swelling and 5-10 after it goes away,” said Ruggieri. He advises those who suspect they may have the mumps to “stay home from school and check with your doctors.”
However, students who are infected with the mumps may not have much to worry about. “In most cases, mumps resolves itself. There have been no mump-related deaths during the recent outbreak,” Ruggieri said. Those who do have to watch out are people whose immune system has been compromised. “If you have other medical conditions like diabetes or HIV, then your body has a hard time recovering after the mumps,” he said. “Healthy young students generally don’t have any problems.”
As globalization of Hawaii increases due to its international designation as a dream vacation spot, it is hoped that more preventative measures are implemented in airports. If such initiative is absent in the minds of state officials, it is inevitable that a more powerful outbreak that is even harder to eliminate will plague this paradise.
Picture credit: health.hawaii.gov