Highly contagious mumps outbreak hitting Auckland gyms

Last year saw the largest mumps outbreak in two decades across Auckland. Now a new outbreak suggests the disease may be back on the rise.

There’s a new outbreak of the highly contagious viral disease mumps across the Auckland region, with localised clusters of cases diagnosed in Howick, Pakuranga, Auckland Central and Ponsonby. The point of origin is unknown.

In its announcement, the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) noted that those affected included gym instructors working in community facilities across Auckland. The ARPHS pointed out that gym instructors are “generally young adults who have lower vaccination rates and who also tend to mix and move between gyms”.

Spokesperson Dr Denise Barnfather told The Spinoff the incidence of mumps in gym instructors is significant because they have high levels of interaction in confined spaces. “This means there is a risk here to people we don’t know. Most other people who have caught mumps this year have exposed others who can be contacted – their workmates, classmates, friends or family members.”

Those diagnosed with mumps are usually able to let close contacts know, so they can check their immunity. This isn’t as easy in a gym environment. 

You are considered immune to mumps, a viral infection of the salivary glands, if you’ve been fully vaccinated, have had mumps before or were born before 1 January 1982. The mumps vaccine is administered as the MMR jab – measles, mumps, and rubella. Barnfather was clear that although the incidence of mumps is not expected to reach that of measles this year, it’s still a danger.

“The early symptoms may include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite,” she said. “The salivary glands on one or both sides of the face, cheeks or jaw may also become swollen and sore within about two days.”

a man with mumps. one side of his face is very swollen like he one big smooth jowl

Mumps is an infection of the salivary glands, and results in face-swelling.

It’s not pretty to look at, and there is no specific treatment for the virus. Infected people will have to wait it out, which can take several weeks. Further to that, mumps can lead to complications.

For one in four adolescent and adult males, complications can include inflammation of the testicles and possible reduced fertility,” said Barnfather. “Inflammation of the brain also occurs in one in seven people, and there is a small risk of miscarriage during the first three months of pregnancy.”

Other complications can include deafness and encephalitis.

Like many viruses, mumps is spread through the air, and via saliva. If you’re unvaccinated and suspect someone coughed or sneezed on the treadmill, you may be at risk for mumps.

The incubation period can range from two to four weeks, and an infected person may be infectious from seven days before the salivary glands swell, until five days after. People without symptoms are also contagious.

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In the 18 months to August 2018, more than 1200 cases were reported in the Auckland region. While that outbreak was ultimately controlled, there have been 120 cases of mumps in Auckland so far this year, with 49 of those in the past four weeks.

The ARPHS has not seen increased rates of rubella to date this year, but it’s a disease they routinely monitor. Those who haven’t received the MMR vaccine are at risk of contracting all three diseases, two of which are on the rise in New Zealand. According to Southern Cross, since the national vaccination programme containing the MMR vaccine was introduced in 1990 there have been generally been around 20-30 cases of mumps per year across the country. During the first big post-MMR outbreak in 2017, more than 900 cases were recorded. 

The MMR vaccine requires two shots, and due to changing vaccination schedules in the 1990s many children may have missed their second shot. It’s worth checking with your parents or your GP. The MMR vaccine is free to anyone born after 1st January 1969.

Those concerned they may have mumps, or may have been exposed to mumps, should contact their GP, but ring ahead to avoid infecting others. Otherwise, you can call Healthline for advice on 0800 611 116.


The Spinoff’s science content is made possible thanks to the support of The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a national institute devoted to scientific research.


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