BOZEMAN - On Monday, parents of students at Emily Dickinson Elementary School and Chief Joseph Middle School received an email saying there had been a mumps outbreak at both schools.
The three new cases of mumps mark ten cases in Gallatin County over the last year. The airborne virus, which is spread by saliva or mucus, is preventable with a vaccine.
Stan Wagner, a Bozeman resident, says his son may have been exposed to other students with the virus.
Nine-year-old Walker was diagnosed with cancer three years ago. And while he beat the disease after 18 months of difficult radiation, now Wagner may need to pull his son out of school again due to Walker’s increased risk of getting the mumps post-chemo. Walker was vaccinated as a child, but the radiation may have reduced his risk of being able to fight off the virus.
Wagner is calling on parents who don’t vaccinate their children to hop on board.
“I know there’s a lot of people who don't believe in it,” Wagner says. “You know, I see them on social media, some of them I usually don't engage, but at this point I'm calling 'em. I'm calling 'em on it. It's time to get kids vaccinated so we can have all of these kids be healthy. The risks of these diseases isn't worth the hope that the kid won't get it."
Parents with concerns regarding vaccinations are encouraged to reach out and get answers, either from their doctors or the school system itself.
“What I find out,” says Bozeman Superintendent Robert Watson, “[is] sometimes the fear of things is a lot worse than it actually is. And sometimes you just need some questions answered.”
School officials say they estimate 3-4% of Bozeman students are unvaccinated.
Says Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley: “It’s a concern that these diseases that we once – if ever – saw are coming back, and we’re seeing a resurgence of the diseases.”
And it’s not just mumps outbreaks popping up; in Washington, an outbreak of the measles has prompted health officials to declare a public health emergency. For parents like Wagner, it’s crazy to see old problems coming to the forefront of the public consciousness again.
“The anti-vax movement, I really just don’t understand,” he admits. “I look at like, our grandparents and great-grandparents learned these really hard lessons and worked really hard to sort these things out for us, that we didn’t have to face them. And we’ve been there so long that we’ve forgotten those lessons.”
Before the mumps vaccine was created, the virus was the leading cause of acquired deafness in children. Now, officials urge all parents to vaccinate their children.
“Throughout my experience as a public health officer, I have never encountered a parent who’s not just trying to do the best thing for their child,” says Kelley. But “from a public health perspective, we know the evidence is clear that vaccines save lives.”
Mumps causes swilling of the salivary glands in the face, high fever, headaches, and body aches.
If you think your child has these symptoms, keep them at home and seek medical attention immediately, even if they’ve already been vaccinated. While the vaccine is extremely effective, it does not provide 100% protection.
The Gallatin County Health Department is offering walk-in immunization clinics at 215 W. Mendenhall in Bozeman from 9-11 AM and 1-4 PM through Thursday, February 14.