Public Health England (PHE) is urging people to ensure they have two doses of MMR vaccine as mumps cases rise to highest levels in a decade.
A spokesman for PHE said provisional data shows that there were 5,042 lab-confirmed cases of mumps in England in 2019, compared to 1,066 cases in 2018. This is the highest number of cases since 2009.
The rise in cases looks set to continue in 2020, with 546 confirmed cases in January 2020 compared to 191 during the same period in 2019.
The steep rise in cases in 2019 has been largely driven by outbreaks in universities and colleges, in the so-called ‘Wakefield cohorts’ – young adults born in the late nineties and early 2000s who missed out on the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine when they were children.
The PHE spokesman said these cohorts are now old enough to attend college and university and are likely to continue fuelling outbreaks into 2020.
Mumps is a viral infection that used to be common in children before the introduction of the MMR vaccine. It is most recognisable by the painful swelling of the glands at the side of the face, giving a person with mumps a distinctive ‘hamster face’ appearance.
Other symptoms include headaches, joint pain and fever, which may develop a few days before the swelling. A spokesman for PHE said vaccination is the safest and most effective way to protect yourself from mumps.
It prevents most, but not all, cases of mumps and even if a vaccinated person does get mumps, they will likely have less severe illness than an unvaccinated person.
PHE and NHS England have recently launched an MMR catch-up programme for children aged 10 to 11 years old to ensure they are fully vaccinated if they missed out in childhood.
Dr Nisha Jayatilleke, national specialty adviser for immunisation at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said:
‘The steep rise in the numbers of cases of mumps is really concerning as for some patients it can lead to life-long complications like meningitis, deafness and even infertility.
‘The best protection is the MMR vaccine – it’s safe, effective and if you have not had any or both doses, you should contact your GP surgery to get it free of charge.’
Health secretary Matt Hancock said:
‘The rise in mumps cases is alarming and yet another example of the long-term damage caused by anti-vax information.
‘Science proves that vaccines are the best form of defence against a host of potentially deadly diseases and are safer and more effective than ever before. Those who claim otherwise are risking people’s lives.
‘Our Vaccine Strategy will soon be published outlining how we will increase uptake, limit the spread of vaccine misinformation and ensure every child receives two doses of their MMR vaccination.’
If you are unsure if you have been vaccinated or suspect that you or a family member has mumps, contact your GP.
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