Fears as mumps cases soar

A MUMPS epidemic has hit Essex with the county seeing huge rises in the number of cases of the disease. Figures released yesterdayshow the number of people diagnosed has risen dramatically in the past 12 months and more than 1,000 could be affected by the end of 2005.

A MUMPS epidemic has hit Essex with the county seeing huge rises in the number of cases of the disease.

Figures released yesterdayshow the number of people diagnosed has risen dramatically in the past 12 months and more than 1,000 could be affected by the end of 2005.

Among the most vulnerable to the outbreak are students aged between 19 and 23 and doctors are urging them to have a vaccination.

But there are also fears for youngsters who were not immunised in recent years as debate raged about the safety of the single measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination.

Across the county 378 people have already been hit by the disease this year, compared to just over 200 cases for the whole of Essex last year.

In the Colchester area, there were just six cases of mumps in 2003, but there have already been 26 in the first four months of 2005.

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In Tendring the number of people affected is on course to top 60 this year, more than double the amount of two years ago.

Colchester Primary Care Trust yesterday announced an "immunisation" campaign at Essex University beginning in the autumn.

Grant Crawshaw, an infection control specialist for both Colchester and Tendring primary care trusts, said: "There is a programme in place to immunise children up to four years old, which has on the whole been successful.

"However, as MMR immunisations did not begin until 1988, there are large numbers of young people who were born before 1988 that currently have no protection.

"Those same people are then going to university where the disease spreads far quicker than it would normally. It is crucial that young people who have not been immunised get protected as quickly as possible and reduce the risk of catching the disease."

Dr Sally Millership of the Essex Health Protection Unit said: "It is an epidemic of mumps with most of the cases in the student age group who, when they were younger, did not get the routine vaccinations.

"There is now an increasing pool of susceptibles in the under-fives because of a poor uptake of the MMR as a result of the adverse publicity surrounding it.

"Mumps does not usually kill you, but it is not a pleasant disease to have and could lead to time off school for children and a hospital admission."

Dr John Cormack of the British Medical Association echoed the belief that the problem was spreading.

"My experience is that we are seeing a lot of it and the whole of the UK is in the grip of an epidemic with 5,000 people affected in January alone.

"We are seeing mostly young people who are going off to university and they are the ones who missed out on the MMR jabs.

"There is also a smattering of young kids who missed out on MMR jabs, because of the MMR scare they did not get vaccinated," he said.

n The figures showing how the mumps epidemic has hit Essex -

County wide- 2004, 219 cases

2005, 378 cases already

Colchester- 2003, six cases

2004, 66 cases

2005, 26 cases to end of April.

Tendring- 2003, 30 cases

2004, 33 cases

2005, 22 cases already.

james.hore@eadt.co.uk

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