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Resurging virus needs new vaccine.

Mumps may seem like a disease of a bygone era to many people in the U.S. who, thanks to immunization programs, have been spared the fever, aches, and characteristic swollen jawline of the once common viral infection. Biao He, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Georgia, Athens, worries that a new strain of the virus is spreading, which could lead to the widespread reintroduction of mumps. He and his team are working on an updated vaccine to stop it.

Although not typically a life-threatening disease, mumps can lead to serious health problems such as viral meningitis, hearing loss, and pancreatitis, and it can cause miscarriage during early pregnancy.

Vaccinations diminished the number of cases dramatically and, at one point, it appeared that the U.S. was on pace to eradicate the disease, but two large outbreaks in 2006 and 2010 involving thousands of confirmed cases in the Midwest and Northeast put the hope of eradication on hold. He is concerned that the current vaccine, which has been in use since 1967, may be showing signs of weakness. "The virus is always evolving and mutating, and new viruses will emerge. It's only a matter of time until the old vaccine we have doesn't work."

The current vaccine is commonly called the Jeryl Lynn strain and is named after the daughter of inventor Maurice Hilleman. It is based on a specific mumps virus called genotype A. However, the 2006 and 2010 mumps outbreaks were caused by another strain, genotype G. Even more troubling is that most of the people who contracted mumps during the recent outbreaks had received the recommended two-dose vaccination in their early childhood, meaning that the virus was spreading even among the vaccinated population.

Some have suggested administering a third Jeryl Lynn vaccine to boost immunity later in life, but it is unclear if that approach would be successful. He suggests that modern scientific techniques have made the creation of some vaccines much easier, so producing a new mumps vaccine may be the most effective method of controlling the emerging threat.

Before the advent of genetic engineering, the process of creating a vaccine could be intensely laborious, as researchers would have to pass the virus through many generations of reproduction until they found a naturally occurring weakened virus.

Health professionals were able to contain the outbreaks of 2006 and 2010, but He thinks that the large global population and ease with which people move from one location to another make humankind vulnerable to rapid disease spread. "It's almost like a small fire; if it stays small, we can put it out, but if conditions are right, and the wind begins to blow, the fire can take over."

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Title Annotation:Mumps
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2012
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