Study suggests need for third MMR vaccine

- Two weeks after a trip to Las Vegas, 30-year-old graduate student Andrea Greene felt like she was coming down with the flu, but her sickness quickly became severe.

"I thought I was gonna die. I was very scared. Then my fever spiked really high. I think it was over 103.  Nothing brought it down; acetaminophen, nothing," Greene remembers.

The right side of her face was swollen and she describes "excruciating" aches in her abdomen, arms, and legs.

After a walk-in clinic sent her home, a CAT scan helped doctors at Tampa General Hospital diagnose her with mumps. 

"At that point, I had never heard of mumps. I [was] balling. I am like, 'Oh my God, what do you mean it's a disease?''" she recalls.  

Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It typically starts with a fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and swollen salivary glands.

Before a vaccine was developed, there were more than 186,000 cases each year.

When two doses of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine became standard, cases dropped to 200 a year.

Then, in 2006, outbreaks began striking the nation. By 2014 it had spread, even infecting players in the National Hockey League. 

From January 2016 until June 2017, there were 150 outbreaks affecting 9,200 people in 39 states, according to the CDC.

Half of the outbreaks were occurring in universities where most students were vaccinated.

Florida Department of Health Epidemiologist Michael Wiese says he wasn't surprised.

"We kind of knew that the conditions were right in any university, any setting where people were living in close proximity," Wiese said. 

In January 2018, a federal vaccine panel issued new guidance - saying anyone exposed to the virus should get a booster shot.

"There is a recommendation to use the mumps vaccine, the MMR to control that outbreak," Wiese says.     

Now a new Harvard study suggests we go one step further.

Using mathematical modeling, researchers estimated that vaccine immunity may start waning as early as age 16. On average, it happens about 27 years after being vaccinated.

They say, outbreak or not, a third shot should be considered for 18-year-olds and throughout adulthood.

"This might be more evidence for really emphasizing that third vaccine for high risk groups," says Dr. Jamie Morano.

Morano is an infectious disease expert at the University of South Florida and was not part of the study. 

She says, although the new 2018 vaccine guidance doesn't recommend all 18-year-olds get a booster, the Harvard study opens the door for students to get the shot before heading off to college. 

Because a third MMR shot is already given to all military recruits, colleges could begin recommending one as well.

"I think it's going to be a gradual process but that's up to every individual university and physician, but certainly that data points to more evidence to say that that third dose may be helpful," Morano says. 

Helpful to prevent cases like Andrea's. She says even her recovery was tough.   

"It literally took me two months that I could walk a good 700 feet without having to sit down and take a break," Greene says.

She hopes her story will encourage others to ask their doctors about the vaccine.

"I think that would definitely eliminate a lot of the issues," she said.

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