The order comes as the number of mumps cases in South King County reaches 54, more than the highest yearly total in the whole state in the last decade.

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The number of mumps cases in South King County has surpassed the highest annual statewide total in the last decade, leading the Auburn School District to tell nonimmunized students to stay home to avoid becoming infected, and infecting others.

The number of confirmed and probable cases in King County has reached 54, according to health officials. Most of the infected are children, most had been vaccinated, and the vast majority are in Auburn. Three cases are in Kent, two in Federal Way and one in Pacific.

In 2007, an unusually high number of mumps cases, 53, was reported in the state. Washington has not seen more than 14 cases in any one year since then — until now.

“People should expect the outbreak to be with us several weeks, possibly months,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “It will probably become a multicounty outbreak. It’s just a matter of time as people travel.”

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On Friday, state health officials announced four probable cases of mumps in Pierce County.

Public-health officials sent letters to Auburn students’ homes saying that children who are not immunized will be allowed back once they have proof they’ve received the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. Otherwise, the students will be kept from school for at least 25 days after the last mumps case in the Auburn district.

Nonimmunized children face the highest risk of infection. As of Thursday, 192 students in the Auburn district had not received the MMR vaccine. The district has 15,500 students, according to its website.

State rules allow for excluding nonimmunized students until they are either vaccinated or the outbreak has subsided, said district spokeswoman Vicki Alonzo.

The district is providing resources to allow students at home to learn remotely through Google Classroom and other technology.

“This is still new and we are working on issues as they arise,” Alonzo said.

Students who have been vaccinated once are encouraged by health officials to get vaccinated again as added protection. The vaccine does not treat those already infected.

This outbreak can’t be blamed on the nonimmunized, Duchin said, as most of the cases involve those already vaccinated.

The vaccine works in 88 percent of the population, on average, Duchin said. But some fail to respond to the vaccination, protection can erode over time, and current viruses may differ from the vaccine virus, Duchin said.

There is no evidence to suggest the vaccine was bad.

Symptoms of the contagious, viral disease include fever, headache and swelling of the cheeks and jowl.

Most people recover from mumps in a few weeks. In rare cases, the disease can cause brain and spinal-cord inflammation and deafness. Complications such as meningitis are likely to occur as the case count increases, Duchin said, noting that meningitis occurs in about 1 in 100 mumps cases.

An infected person can spread the virus through coughing or sneezing, and by hand contact.

Most people born before 1957, when mumps was widespread, probably were infected and have natural immunity.

Other than vaccination, preventive measures include hand-washing, disinfecting surfaces and toys and avoiding infected people.