In the wake of a recent mumps outbreak, health officials and insurers across the Sunshine State are working to raise awareness about the importance of keeping immunizations up-to-date.
The viral illness, which first cropped up in the Midwest, has apparently reached Florida. In late April, a 49-year-old Nassau County woman reported symptoms of the disease. It's believed she contracted it while visiting Iowa, the source of the outbreak.
Mumps is considered to be a mild viral illness, but it can cause severe side effects in about 10 percent of those infected. Potential complications include encephalitis, or swelling in the brain, and in male patients, inflammation of the testes, which in rare cases can lead to infertility.
The Florida woman who reported mumps-like symptoms works in nearby Georgia as an employee of a high school near the Florida-Georgia state line.
Two doses of the mumps vaccine are considered to be roughly 80 to 90% effective in protecting the patient from the disease.
But even though the remaining 10 to 20% of those who've had the shots can still get mumps, health care providers still see the outbreak as a timely reminder of the importance of keeping current with immunizations.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, for example, says it takes a proactive role in encouraging its patient population to remember vaccinations, sending monthly mailers targeting newborns and adolescents to all HMO members. The company also has a contract with Florida's State Health Department that accesses their online immunization registry.
"We recognize the importance of immunizations to the health of the individual child as well as the community overall," says Marion Allen, Clinical Quality Improvement Specialist for the insurer.
Meantime, health officials say the mumps strain criss-crossing the country is similar to one affecting the United Kingdom since 2004. That country reports more than 70,000 mumps cases, affecting mostly unvaccinated young adults.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 1,300 suspected or confirmed cases, mostly in Iowa and other Midwestern states.
The Florida Department of Health is urging all residents to review their vaccine records to make sure their shots and those of their children are current.
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