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What is the history of Mumps in America and other countries?

Updated January 22, 2023

disease history

The earliest reports of mumps dates back to Hippocrates in the 5th century BC. Hippocrates reported on an illness that involved swelling just below one or both ears and sometimes involved the swelling and pain of one or both testicles.  In 1934, researchers determined that the mumps virus that was present in the saliva could be spread from an infected individual to rhesus monkeys.  The mumps virus was isolated in 1945 and researchers began work on the development of a vaccine against mumps. 

Prior to widespread vaccination programs, mumps outbreaks occurred in the U.S. every 2 to 5 years, mainly among children and in crowded, confined populations such as schools and military bases.  In countries where there are no widespread mumps vaccination programs, higher incidences of mumps outbreaks occur every 2 to 5 years, and typically affect children between the age of 5 and 9 years.  Mumps outbreaks occur more often in the winter and spring  however outbreaks are possible at any time of the year. 

Mumps was considered a nationally reportable infection between 1922 and 1950; however, it was removed from the list in 1951.    In 1968, one year after the introduction of Mumpsvax, a live virus vaccine manufactured by Merck,  the CDC resumed data collection on mumps infections.  In 1968, there were 152,209 reported cases in the United States.  Reported cases of mumps continued to decrease and by 1977, there were only 21,436 cases reported in the United States.  By 1985, the number of reported cases had decreased further with only 2,982 cases of mumps reported to the CDC.  However, between 1985 and 1987, a resurgence of mumps occurred and by 1987, the number of reported cases had risen to 12,848.  The demographics of mumps infection shifted during this resurgence, with nearly one third of cases occurring in individuals 15 years of age and older,  a demographic with an increased risk of complications.  Prior to 1985, mumps infections predominantly affected children between the age of 5 and 9 years of age. 

After 1987, mumps infections continued to decrease again and by 1989, when the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend two doses of the MMR vaccine due to the resurgence of measles in the United States,  only 666 cases of mumps were reported to the CDC. 

However, in late 2004, an outbreak of mumps disease occurred in the United Kingdom and by late 2005, 56,390 cases of mumps had been reported, with the majority occurring in persons aged 15 to 24 years of age, most of whom had not previously been vaccinated for mumps.  

In the U.S., infections continued to decline until December of 2005, when a large outbreak began at an eastern Iowa university.  The outbreak continued to spread, affecting many fully vaccinated college students,    and by the end of 2006, 6,584 cases of mumps infection had been reported to the CDC. 

In 2009 and 2010, the U.S., Canada, and Guam experienced mumps outbreaks.    In the U.S., the majority of cases occurred in the Northeast, affecting mainly adolescent Orthodox Jewish boys.  There were 4,603 cases of mumps reported to the CDC as a result of the outbreaks that occurred in 2009 and 2010.    As with the 2006 outbreak, most persons affected with mumps were previously vaccinated for mumps.

Outbreaks in the United States have continued to occur in highly vaccinated populations, especially among young adults residing on college campuses. In 2011, an outbreak occurred on a university campus in California.  In 2015-2016, several Midwest universities experienced outbreaks, again, affecting highly vaccinated students.    In 2016-2017, nearly 3000 people living in a close-knit community in Northwest Arkansas were infected with mumps.  In October 2017, as a result of the continued outbreaks among highly vaccinated individuals, the CDC’s ACIP recommended that a third dose of a mumps containing vaccine be administered in the event of an outbreak of the illness. 

Mumps outbreaks continue to occur in the United States and between January 1 and December 28, 2019, there were 3,474 cases of mumps reported to the CDC.  As up to 30 percent of people infected with mumps infection are asymptomatic, and up to 50 percent may exhibit signs of a mild nonspecific illness,  it is likely that mumps infection rates are significantly higher than the number of reported cases.

From April 1 to December 31, 2020, 142 cases of mumps were reported in the U.S., a decrease from the previous six years. Health officials have speculated that preventative measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 illness may have also led to a decrease in mumps cases. In 2021, there were 154 reported mumps cases. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Mumps and the Mumps vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents, which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.



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