Toronto Public Health officials are investigating a mumps outbreak after lab results confirmed that 14 people have fallen ill with the virus. 

Most of those who became sick likely contracted the illness through several bars on the west side of downtown, according to contact tracing that public health officials performed. Public health has not released the names of the establishments. 

Dr. Vinita Dubey

Dr. Vinita Dubey says Toronto typically sees four cases of mumps in a year. (CBC)

"It's not the bars themselves that are infected, but the individuals who are going to bars," acting medical officer of health Dr. Vinita Dubey said. "Some of them are contagious and they're coughing or sneezing ... They may be sharing drinks or utensils and that's how mumps is probably spreading."

The other kissing disease

The virus itself can be spread through respiratory droplets or salivary glands, which means that carriers can pass on the illness through coughing and sneezing as well. 

To prevent the virus from spreading, health officials suggest people be careful about swapping drinks or sharing food — or, well, swapping saliva.  

hi-influenza-flu-sneeze-canada

Mumps spreads through respiratory mucus and saliva - think coughing, sneezing, sharing drinks and kissing. (CBC)

While 14 cases since January may not seem statistically significant, Toronto Public Health data shows that the city has seen an average of four cases each year for the past five years.

All of the current cases have been confirmed in adults between 18 and 35. About 60 per cent of them either never received the mumps, measles and rubella booster or got one of the two recommended doses, Dubey said. 

Providing a second round of the vaccine wasn't practised until the early 90s, which has led to a small gap in the herd immunity for those born between 1970 and 1991.

Anyone born before then likely had the mumps as a child, Dubey said, and should now be considered immune. 

Know the symptoms

Toronto Public Health warns that anyone showing symptoms of the illness should contact their doctor.

Symptoms include: 

  • swelling or pain in the cheeks and jaw
  • fever
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches

Rare complications from the disease can include meningitis, encephalitis — an infection in the brain — or miscarriage in women who are in their first trimester of pregnancy, according to a report from public health.

Coun. Joe Mihevc, who sits on the city's board of health, said that the outbreak appears to be under control. Public health officials believe they've gotten in touch with anyone who has come into contact with those who are confirmed to have the virus, he told CBC Toronto.

Although the risk of infection to the general public remains low, the agency recommends that residents check their immunization records. 

With files from Mike Smee