The Northwest Territories has confirmed its first cases of mumps in more than two decades.

The territory’s chief public health officer, Dr Andre Corriveau, issued an advisory on Thursday urging residents to watch closely for signs of the disease.

Two cases have been confirmed so far and several other suspected instances are awaiting lab tests. The territory’s last mumps cases were reported in 1995.

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“A physician saw a suspect case and even though we had not seen this in a long, long time, she had the insight to call my office,” Dr Corriveau told Cabin Radio.

“We found out [the patient] had another family member with similar symptoms a few weeks before that were not picked up at the time.

“[The patient] had been involved in handgames during the period when they were infectious, so we got concerned that other people might have been exposed and brought it back to their community. That’s why I felt we should issue an advisory to remind people about mumps: it has been so rare, a whole generation hasn’t really seen it.”

Feels like flu

The territorial government would not identify the community in which the first cases were discovered, citing patient confidentiality, nor the handgames tournament attended by the patient.

Prominent handgames tournaments recently took place in a number of NWT communities, including Behchoko and Deline.

Mumps is an acute infectious disease spread via coughing, sneezing, kissing, sharing glasses or utensils, and touching a surface that has the virus on it. If you are at all concerned that you or a family member may have mumps, contact your healthcare centre immediately and don’t go anywhere you might spread it to others.

Symptoms include swollen saliva glands, fever, headache, sore muscles, and trouble talking, chewing, or swallowing. Infected people may feel like they have the flu before swelling develops.

Read: Information from Health Canada on mumps symptoms

The incubation period, from exposure to falling ill, can be as long as 25 days. There isn’t a cure, but most people fully recover in a week or two.

“By the middle of April, if we don’t have any other cases, I can say we escaped having a larger outbreak,” said Dr Corriveau.

Mumps can be prevented by vaccine, but Dr Corriveau believes the number of NWT residents without full vaccination is growing.

“That is of some concern,” he said, “and that concern is shared across many countries. We’ve had some outbreaks of mumps in the past couple of years in other parts of Canada – usually small outbreaks.

“This is a sign that our level of immunity is not optimal any more.”