Mumps. Seriously? Seriously. Arkansas' biggest cluster of mumps cases in more than five years has been confirmed in the northwest part of the state and unvaccinated students at affected schools are being asked to stay home until the outbreak ends. As I write this article, officials are aware of 89 confirmed cases in the Springdale area. The outbreak currently affects four schools in the Springdale School District. A spokeswoman for the Arkansas Health Department said that any student who has not been vaccinated, and attends a school with a confirmed case of mumps, must stay home for 26 calendar days. That is the maximum incubation period for mumps from the time of exposure. If you are old enough to remember when mumps were commonplace, you don't need to be reminded how miserable they can make you feel. To those unfamiliar with the disease, mumps is a highly contagious viral infection that causes swelling in the salivary glands and cheeks. I personally never had them, but some of my friends swelled up like toads! My wife says she and her sister couldn't stop laughing at each other and then crying because it hurt to laugh! Those with the illness may also have headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and low-grade fevers.State law allows parents to claim medical, religious, or philosophical exemptions from school vaccination requirements. Now, I'm not going to jump up on my soapbox here, but I do want to point out the obvious - vaccinations definitely lower your chance of developing a vaccine-preventable disease, and failure to get vaccinated greatly puts your family (and others) at risk. In Northwest Arkansas, the opt-out rate for vaccinations far exceeds any other area of the state, according to data supplied by the Arkansas Health Department.So far, the cases have been found only in Springdale, which straddles both Washington and Benton counties. Washington County had 649 vaccine exemptions for the 2015-2016 school year and Benton County had the state's highest number of exemptions at 1,044, according to health department spokeswoman, Meg Mirivel. By comparison, Arkansas' most populous county, Pulaski County, only had 349 vaccine exemptions last school year. Health department officials don't know why the exemption rate is so much higher in Northwest Arkansas, but it seems to be in line with national studies which show that those who refuse vaccinations are likely to be better educated with a high household income. Northwest Arkansas is home to several Fortune 500 companies and has some of the highest per capita incomes in the state, according to census data.We can surely expect to see more cases in the coming weeks. For that reason, Arkansans need to make sure that they and their loved ones are up-to-date on the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. FYI, pharmacists can vaccinate adults who need the MMR or a booster - no prescription needed. Pharmacists can also vaccinate children from ages 7 to 17 for MMR. However, a valid prescription for the vaccine is required for minors. While we are on the subject of vaccinations, now would be a good time for you to get your annual flu shot. It sounds early, but the latest recommendation from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) encourages people to get the vaccine as soon as it is available, typically mid-September. Here are a few bullet points of interest:⢠Most insurance plans (including Medicare) cover the flu vaccine with little or no copay.⢠Women who are pregnant should be vaccinated and can safely receive the flu vaccine at any point during pregnancy.⢠Women who are breastfeeding should also be vaccinated.⢠A special effort should be made to vaccinate children and adolescents with medical conditions, as well as adults with high-risk conditions that could increase the risk of flu complications.⢠Nasal spray vaccines are no longer recommended; studies showed poor effectiveness with these vaccines.⢠Vaccination remains the best available preventive measure against influenza.⢠The flu shot absolutely CANNOT cause the flu.By the way, pharmacists are uniquely positioned to make sure our community is protected from a serious outbreak of the flu. At Smith Family Pharmacy, we are committed to keep you healthy. Blake or I will sit down with you and make sure that you are up to date on ALL of your immunizations. Most people won't need the MMR mentioned above, but if you do, we've got you covered. Come see us soon.