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Western Pennsylvania cheerleaders possibly exposed to mumps at Texas competition

Ben Schmitt
| Wednesday, March 7, 2018, 11:03 a.m.
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A a pediatrician holds a dose of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at his practice in Northridge, Calif.
A a pediatrician holds a dose of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at his practice in Northridge, Calif.

Twenty-seven athletes from a Western Pennsylvania cheerleading team could have been exposed to mumps last month during a national competition in Texas, according to the team's owner.

Jenn Smith, co-owner of HotCheer AllStars from Elizabeth Township, said she received notification from the Allegheny County Health Department Tuesday about possible exposure.

She said she forwarded an email from the health department to parents of all 27 cheerleaders, who are all girls and in middle school and high school. So far she has not heard of any cheerleaders showing symptoms of the mumps.

The Washington Post reported that someone with mumps attended the National Cheerleaders Association All-Star National Championship in Dallas last month. Thousands of cheerleaders could have been exposed to the virus.

Athletes from 39 states and nine countries may have been exposed. The competition took place Feb. 23-25 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and drew more than 23,000 athletes and 2,600 coaches.

"If the athletes have not had 2 MMR vaccines, we recommend that they get vaccinated if there is no medical contraindication," Dr. Kristen Mertz, an Allegheny County medical epidemiologist, wrote to Smith in an email. "We also recommend watching for symptoms of mumps (swelling just below the front of the ear, fever, headache, muscle aches) from March 7 through March 22. If symptoms arise, parents should contact their primary care provider to explain the situation."

Smith said she did not get the impression that the health department was overly concerned.

"They said there was a pretty small chance that they were exposed to mumps," she said.

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the agency alerted other state health departments about the possible exposure.

Mumps is a contagious virus that causes the salivary glands in the face to become swollen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many Pittsburgh Penguins fans no doubt remember the mumps locker room outbreak that afflicted captain Sidney Crosby.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease specialist, said mumps is usually a benign infection occurring two to three weeks after exposure to the virus. It is characterized "by swelling of the salivary glands giving people a conspicuous appearance."

"Mumps was once a ubiquitous disease of childhood that diminished significantly due to the success of the vaccine, which is given in 2 doses during childhood," Adalja said. "However, in recent years, outbreaks have occurred in specific populations such as college students and sports teams — including the Pittsburgh Penguins— when high level exposure to the virus overcomes vaccine protection."

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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