Spread of Mumps in the Workplace

Handwashing is one way to prevent catching viruses such as the mumps at work.

Handwashing is one way to prevent catching viruses such as the mumps at work.

You're not likely to catch mumps at work because you and your coworkers were probably given the mumps vaccine as children. First available in the United States in 1967, the mumps vaccine reduces mumps cases by 99 percent. If an unvaccinated foreign coworker brings mumps back as a souvenir from a trip to the homeland, an unlucky few in the office could catch it. A small percentage of people who got vaccinated do come down with mumps if they are exposed to it. Take common-sense precautions to avoid ending up with chipmunk cheeks and potentially more serious side effects.

Spreading the Virus

As with many germs, you can spread the mumps virus to others before you realize you have it. This makes it hard to avoid coworkers who are sharing the mumps virus through respiratory means, which include talking, laughing, coughing or simply breathing in your vicinity. Most viruses can travel up to six feet when people talk, so keeping your distance can help. Since you can also pick up the virus on your hands and then infect yourself by touching your mouth or other orifices, like your nose, wash your hands or use hand sanitizers not only after using the bathroom but after touching surfaces handled by other people, such as a communal phone or computer.

Symptoms

If you know the symptoms of mumps, you can stay clear of anyone who looks like they might be getting it. Unfortunately, mumps starts out like lots of other diseases, with vague symptoms such as fever, body aches, tiredness and lack of appetite. Swollen salivary glands under the ears cause the typical swollen cheek appearance of the mumps sufferer. Around 30 percent of people with mumps have no symptoms at all, the Health Protection Agency of the United Kingdom reports.

Complications

Your male co-workers might cringe at the mention of mumps, which can cause testicular swelling and, obviously, pain. Mumps can cause sterility in men, in rare cases. But women can have their own set of misery from mumps, which can infect the ovaries or breast tissue, which also causes pain. Women who get the mumps while pregnant might also have a slightly increased risk of miscarriage, but this hasn't been proved in studies. In rare cases, around one in 10,000, you can die from mumps, usually from mumps encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

Incubation

It takes a long time to incubate the mumps virus, so between 12 and 25 days can pass after you've been exposed to the virus before you know if you have it. You can spread the virus to others as early as seven days before you develop any symptoms. It's a rare office that will let coworkers who have been exposed to the virus stay home for two weeks, just in case they might have caught the mumps and don't have symptoms yet. If you have an occupational health department, let them know if you've been exposed to mumps. They might do blood work to see if you're immune and, if not, might give you and anyone else you've exposed in the office the vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you think you've been exposed.

 

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.

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