DR. HOOK- Mumps alert: Nothing swell about this disease

Pinching cheeks should be a felony. "Oh, child! You are soooo cute!" Pinch! Ouch! (Note to self: punish lady who just pinched salivary gland out of cheek.)

It isn't just the pinching that's the problem. It's the twisting action that accompanies the pinch. I know some women pinch their own cheeks to make themselves look prettier, but that's their own masochism.

I guess our society is obsessed with cheeks. People playfully swat another person's butt cheeks. Russians kiss each other on both cheeks. Hollywood stars "kiss" each other on the cheeks but mysteriously never leave a lipstick print. Couples get cheeky with one another. Jokes can be tongue-in-cheek. So what happens if your cheeks become as big as Carmen Electra's chest?

Mumps is here– run!

Back in the day before vaccinations, mumps outbreaks were common in the late winter-early spring. However, in 1977, most schools started to require mumps vaccinations, which has reduced the epidemics.

However, in the past year, there are more frequent sporadic outbreaks, such as April 2006 in Iowa, and now several reported cases in Charlottesville– mostly at the University of Virginia. (So you can't be Cavalier about this disease.)

Usually, infected people start to feel sick two to three weeks after being exposed. Flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches, anorexia, and sore throat are followed 48 hours later by the classic chipmunk cheeks (Chip & Dale, eat your heart out). Mumps usually lasts 7-10 days, and typically by day nine the person is no longer contagious.

For those 38 percent of unlucky post-pubescent males with mumps, the testicle(s) become swollen, red, and hurt like Johnny Knoxville in a Jackass Movie. Worst case scenario is plenty serious: sterility.

Meningitis and encephalitis occur if the virus goes to the sheath around the spinal cord and into the brain, respectively. A stiff neck and bad headache can be a sign of meningitis, while mental status changes indicates encephalitis. Rarely, deafness can occur, as well as pancreatitis, arthritis, and heart damage. Pregnant women in their first trimester are at risk of miscarriage. Now you see how dire this can be.

What can you do to prevent it? Going into isolation like Howard Hughes is one way. Highly contagious, this virus is aerosolized in breathing and in saliva, so if your boss is breathing down your neck, make sure he doesn't have the mumps! Most at risk: college students in closed quarters, military folks, and people with young kids who bring the "cooties" home. The problem with mumps is the infected person is most contagious for a few days– before the symptoms are apparent.

Many people born between 1967-1977 didn't get two mumps vaccines growing up. I was born in 1966 and didn't either, so sometime around 1989 I was required by my medical school to get my second vaccine to become fully immune. For my patients who don't know if they are immune, I take a blood test. Most of the elderly population is considered immune to mumps because of previous exposure.

There is no cure. A person with the mumps usually lies in bed– at home or in the hospital– and suffers. Anti-inflammatories and ice are helpful relief– even to the testicles (I could make a joke here but won't). 

I wonder if Dizzy Gillespie ever had the mumps. Could you imagine the size of his cheeks if he played his horn with the mumps? You would need to have hands the size of King Kong's to pinch his cheeks!