LORAN SMITH: Getting caught up on being stricken

FEATURES COLUMN: As with measles, mumps have made something of a comeback lately

Loran Smith

Loran Smith

Have you heard of anybody coming down with the mumps lately? Guess that is correct terminology for contracting the disease. In the rural vernacular of yesteryear, the common term would have been that you “caught” whatever ill health which came your way, which brings up an interesting story.

In my college years, when I was assigned to the rewrite desk of the Associated Press, I wrote a story about a drowning in one of the lakes in North Georgia in which I quoted a bystander who said that the victim had “caught” the cramps. There was a titanic eruption in the news room when a seasoned editor screamed in my direction that you “are stricken with the cramps, you don’t catch ‘em (multiple expletives deleted here)!”

Even an unwashed country fellow would not suggest that anyone with the mumps “caught” them from somebody else, although the disease is spread through contact with respiratory secretions, such as saliva.

Someone brought up a date that was a reminder of a year in which I was “stricken” with the mumps. As I recall, I was 28 years old and did not know anyone in my circle of friends who were mumps victims. Nobody I had come in contact with revealed later they had contracted the disease. I heard of many mumps cases growing up, but I missed them as a child. When the mumps came my way, I was married, which was a concern in that the mumps can, in rare cases, cause males to become sterile.

Quick research on the Internet revealed that up to 20 percent of people infected with the mumps don’t always show symptoms of the disease. You can be infected and not realize you are spreading the virus. Interestingly, as with measles, mumps have made something of a comeback lately. One of the reasons for the resurgence of measles is that there are an increasing number of Americans who fail to get vaccinations. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that there were 220 cases of the measles discovered in the U.S. Of those cases, two thirds of the victims had not received vaccinations. Apparently, most of those inflicted were those who contracted the disease while traveling outside the United States.

That prompts another story worthy of telling. When I was growing up, the school system provided free vaccinations in my county for various childhood diseases, as was the case across the state. Believe it or not, some kids refused to take the vaccinations because they were afraid of the needle. Their parents, mostly primitively educated rural folk, supported their kids refusal to “take their shots.”

I was afraid, too, but I simply took a deep breath and with every muscle in my body tensed and taught, felt the needle zap into my arm without any consequential results. I survived all those vaccine sessions with the country health nurse. Interestingly, I never heard of any of the kids who refused to submit to vaccinations developing serious medical complications. They did endure the wrath of the nurse, however, who once exclaimed in exasperation, “There’s more ignorance per square foot in this county than any place on earth.”

Growing up, all my cousins and friends seemed to come down with the measles, which meant that you had to stay out of school, which was, to most of us, a good thing. Then you heard that measles could make you go blind, which led to deep fears. Don’t know how they treat mumps today, but my experience was that I had to stay in bed off my feet, which led to the worst condition known to man. Boredom.

I now take leave with a story having to do with the German occupation of Denmark in World War II. The Danes were inhospitable captives. It developed that a Nazi soldier entered the flat of a Danish girl and had his way with her. Upon leaving, he noted that in due course she might become pregnant, concluding with this comment: “If it happens to be a boy, you can name him Fritz, for me, if you like.”

This prompted a caustic response from the young girl. “Well, Fritz, in a few days you are likely to come down with an infection. You can call it the mumps if you like.”