Outbreaks of mumps in Johnson County and Arkansas have had similar impacts on each community’s Pacific Islander populations, officials said this week, though the cases in North Texas have been much less widespread.
Nearly half the people diagnosed with mumps in Johnson County — 29 of 61 — are of Pacific Islander descent, said Dr. Elvin Adams, a county health official.
Pacific Islanders make up about 0.5 percent of the county’s population, or about 800 people, according to census data.
In Arkansas, the Marshall Islands community had accounted for about 60 percent of the state’s 2,220 reported cases as of Friday, according to a report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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About 10,000 Marshallese people live in northwest Arkansas. The outbreak began in August, the newspaper reported.
The mumps cases in Johnson County likely came from Arkansas, where several students from Keene visited family members last month.
Health authorities there are unsure why so many Marshallese people have been infected with the highly contagious virus, which can be spread through coughing and sneezing.
Health officials are investigating whether the vaccine is less effective for certain populations, the Democrat-Gazette reported.
Nate Smith, director of the Arkansas Health Department, told the newspaper that Marshallese people live “oftentimes with multiple families in the same household.”
“It’s a little bit more like a college dorm in terms of intensity of exposure,” Smith said.
In Johnson County, Adams said several factors could contribute to one group of people contracting the virus at a higher rate.
But ultimately, “one doesn’t know, and frankly, it’s probably too complicated to sort out,” Adams said.
Johnson County’s 61 total cases have been one of the largest outbreaks in Texas in years — statewide, there hadn’t been more than 20 cases in a year since 2011.
There is no cure for the virus, which often leads to facial swelling and could lead to brain infection. None of the infected patients has experienced complications, Adams said.
Most of the patients had received the MMR mumps vaccine before contracting the virus.
“These little outbreaks in a community just kind of proves the point that the vaccine is not 100 percent effective,” Adams said.
Other cases of the virus have been reported around North Texas.
A Fort Worth school district employee who does not work on campus contracted the virus recently, officials said Friday. A school district spokesman did not believe there was a risk for an outbreak since the employee does not work in proximity to students.
Eight adults in Dallas County were infected with mumps last month, according to The Dallas Morning News.
A Frisco High School student is believed to have exposed classmates to the virus, CBS 11 reported Monday.