Mumps cases soaring in Suffolk

A MUMPS outbreak in Suffolk has seen the number of reported cases rise from none to more than 200 in less than three years, new figures have revealed.The county's health protection unit said incidences of the contagious virus, which causes mild illness but can have severe complications, had soared since 2002.

A MUMPS outbreak in Suffolk has seen the number of reported cases rise from none to more than 200 in less than three years, new figures have revealed.

The county's health protection unit said incidences of the contagious virus, which causes mild illness but can have severe complications, had soared since 2002.

In the last year alone, the number of notifications received at the unit has more than doubled, prompting health bosses to take action to stem the rising number of cases.

But Dr Roberto Vivancos, a public health doctor with the Suffolk Health Protection Unit, said yesterday: “It is hard to say if we are at the peak or not. We are not sure how many people aged between 16 and 25 have not received the vaccination.”


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In the first eight months of this year, there have been 208 reported cases affecting people from across Suffolk, compared to 80 last year, two in 2003 and none in 2002.

Dr Vivancos said there was now a group of people aged between 16 and 25 who were never vaccinated against mumps, as the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) immunisation was only introduced in 1988.

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Other children in the age bracket may have only received one dose of the vaccine, meaning they are not totally covered against the virus. There was a “catch-up campaign” for the vaccine against rubella and measles in 1994, but mumps was not included.

There are also children who have not received the MMR vaccine due to its purported link with autism, with the take-up rate of the three-in-one jab in Suffolk currently at around 82%.

Dr Vivancos said: “There are some children that have not been vaccinated, which makes them susceptible once there is transmission of the disease in the community.”

He said the only way the number of cases would drop again is if those who are susceptible to mumps are either vaccinated or if they catch the mumps virus, as repeat infection is rare.

The Suffolk Health Protection Unit's latest quarterly newsletter to GPs, Germ Warfare, said: “There is no treatment available for mumps, but we can immunise.

“Apart from increasing MMR coverage in younger children, we can opportunistically identify those now aged 16 to 25 and offer them vaccination.

“With continued vigorous campaigning and surveillance on our part, hopefully we will watch numbers go down again.”

Dr Gareth Richards, spokesman for the Suffolk division of the British Medical Association (BMA), said he expected the current mumps figures “to go even higher”.

“There is this cohort of children who were not vaccinated 10 years ago or did not get the boosters,” he said.

“In times of mixing, when they go to university or other schools, and meet lots of other youngsters, we will see mumps spread. Once mumps has got a firm grip of the community those people that were vaccinated but whose vaccination is waning will also suffer. Those with compromised immunity, such as cancer sufferers, will be at risk.”

Dr Richards said the current increase was a result of the alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism, which he called a “dubious piece of research”.

“This is no great surprise but it is regrettable. It's not too late for people to be vaccinated and get their children vaccinated,” he said.

“One case of mumps will spread rapidly. It is an infectious disease and it is not always benign and mild. The older you are then it can have devastating consequences.”

Mumps is a viral infection of the parotid salivary glands, which are located just below and in front of the ears.

Mumps is caused by a contagious virus, which is transmitted through airborne droplets from the coughs and sneezes of infected people.

Symptoms usually appear two to three weeks after coming into contact with the infection, but it can take longer.

Mumps is normally a mild illness, although in a minority of cases there can be severe complications, such as deafness in one ear (which happens in around one in 15,000 cases), meningitis and inflammation of the brain - encephalitis, thyroid or pancreas. One in four adolescent boys or men may experience swelling in the testes and around 5% of females may have swelling of the ovaries.

Since 1988, when the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisation was introduced, children can be vaccinated against mumps.

There is no cure for mumps, so any treatment deals with symptoms. The body heals itself by producing antibodies to the virus, providing immunity for the rest of the person's life; repeat infection is very rare.

(Information from the NHS Direct website)

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