The History of the Mumps

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Mumps is an illness that causes severe swelling of the salivary glands, and in some cases the testicles. The disease has been a nuisance since ancient times, and grew to epidemic proportions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Vaccines are available to treat the disease, but many physicians have cast doubt as to their efficacy.

Ancient References

Mumps is first described in the writings of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, who wrote during the 5th century B.C. He described the symptoms of the disease, namely the swelling of the face and the throat, as well as the swelling of the testicles that affects some men who develop the illness.

18th to 20th Century

Epidemics of the mumps occurred during the 18th and 19th centuries. The outbreaks occurred worldwide, often in close quarters, such as military barracks, boarding schools, ships at sea and prisons. In World War I, mumps was the leading cause of French troops missing active duty. It wasn't until 1934 when Drs. Johnson and Goodpasture proved that the mumps was caused by a virus, which the doctors isolated from saliva samples.

Mumps Vaccine

There are three major mumps vaccines that were developed in the 20th century: Rubini, Jeryl-Lynn and Urabe. Of these, only the Jeryl Lynn is in use in the United States today. The Jeryl Lynn vaccine was developed in the 1960's and licensed in 1967.

Combination Vaccine

The combination vaccine called the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine was developed in 1971, and became routinely used by 1977. However, it wasn't until the 1990s that American schools began to require that all students get the MMR vaccine.

Concerns About Effectiveness of Vaccine

Many concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of the mumps/MMR vaccine in recent years. During a 2006 outbreak of the disease in California, many who had been vaccinated still became ill. It was the worst outbreak in the United States in two decades. Across the pond, British physicians also agree that the vaccine may not be the most effective. Outbreaks of the disease have occurred with some regularity since the late 1990s in communities in Northern Ireland and the northern parts of England.

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