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N.S. Health circulates mumps information to downtown bars

Joint effort between health, environment departments looks to stem outbreak hitting young adults

4 min read
caption Mumps is transferred by sharing drinks, cigarettes or even close talking.
Silas Brown
caption Mumps is transferred by sharing drinks, cigarettes or even close talking.
Silas Brown

Health officials have detected a “pattern” of mumps infections in Halifax and are reaching out to bars and restaurants to help curb the outbreak.

From November to February there have been 20 confirmed cases of the mumps in the Halifax area. All of those infected have been between the ages of 20 and 36.

This isn’t the only commonality they share, said Dr. Trevor Arnason, the medical officer of health for the Halifax region.

“What we found was that people who were becoming infected were more likely to be in places like bars, house parties at the time at which they were infected, and that’s consistent with other outbreaks of mumps across the country,” he said Tuesday.

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The conclusion from that was, maybe, we should reach out to some of the bars and restaurants.”

On Jan. 24 the environment and health departments sent an information pamphlet to the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. The commission, in turn, sent it out to its members. The pamphlets outlined how the virus is spread and ways that businesses could keep employees and patrons from getting sick.

“It’s not like bars and restaurants are dirty and that’s definitely how it’s passed, but there’s definitely a pattern emerging,” said Lesley Mulcahy, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Health Authority on Monday.

Ivy Ho, director of communications for Downtown Halifax Business Commission, said that being contacted by the Department of Health about an infectious disease “is a bit anomalous,” but it’s better to be informed. 

Mumps is a viral infection contracted through saliva. Symptoms include fever, headache, swollen glands and tiredness. It typically last 10 days.

This joint effort is a second attempt to curb an ongoing outbreak. Arnason said the first preventive step is encouraging people to get vaccinated.

“Mumps is a vaccine preventable disease. Our primary goal with any mumps outbreak is to get as many people vaccinated who may be exposed. Reaching out to establishments and going through Nova Scotia environment for this type of outbreak is actually a bit unusual for us,” he said.

“We decided well we should try other avenues to slow it down in addition to increasing the immunization. We should also try to slow the spread by targeting some of the behaviours.”

Young people at higher risk of infection

Arnason said that younger people are the most likely to share drinks, cigarettes and socialize in loud environments that encourages “close talking,” which are all ways mumps are spread. All of the cases in Halifax have been people in their 20s and early 30s.

But there’s another reason this group is at higher risk than others.

“We realized in the mid-’90s that we needed to do two doses. Now, when we were switching over in the ’90s, there may have been a few people who were missed, didn’t go back to their doctors for that extra doses (and) may not have been aware that they needed that extra dose,” said Arnason.

In addition, young people might not be aware of their vaccination history and might assume it’s up to date.

Arnason said cases aren’t typically seen in people born before 1970 because they’re more likely to have been exposed to the virus as a child and have “natural immunity.”

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