U.S. Public health officials have voiced concerns about an outbreak of mumps that has hit people in the Midwest with some reporting to have contacted the infection on airline flights. Iowa reported more than 600 cases of the common childhood illness, which was all but wiped out with the widespread use of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
"The state of Iowa has been experiencing a large mumps outbreak that began in December 2005," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement. "This outbreak has spread across Iowa, and mumps activity, possibly linked to the Iowa outbreak, is under investigation in six neighboring states, including Illinois (four cases), Kansas (33 cases), Minnesota (one case), Missouri (four cases), Nebraska (43 cases), and Wisconsin (four cases)." Mumps is a viral infection that affects salivary glands. Common symptoms include fever, headache, and swelling of the glands around the jaw. However, untreated cases can develop complications like meningitis, encephalitis, inflammation of the testicles or ovaries, inflammation of the pancreas and permanent deafness. The CDC said that the infection is as contagious as the flu and can be transmitted by coughing or sneezing. It also said that it was monitoring two airline travelers who took nine flights in this month. However Penny Hitchcock, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Biosecurity, said that the CDC had not clarified why it was looking for air travelers. "Warning the general public about the dangers of acquiring infection from air travel is arguably irresponsible, unless supported by compelling epidemiological evidence," Hitchcock said.