In Brief

Why mumps cases have hit a decade high

Legacy of discredited MMR vaccine claims blamed for rise

Health officials are urging members of the public to ensure they have had the MMR vaccine, as new figures show cases of mumps have soared to a ten-year high in England.

A total of 5,042 recorded cases of the viral illness were recorded in 2019, up from 1,066 cases the previous year and the highest total since 2009, according to data from Public Health England (PHE). 

And the “steep surge” looks set to continue in 2020, with 546 confirmed cases last month compared with 191 in January 2019, says The Sun.

Medics believe the increases in cases of mumps - which like colds and flu is spread via droplets of saliva or mucus - are mainly down to outbreaks in universities and colleges. Many of last year’s cases were in people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s who missed out on the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine as children.

Experts say that two full doses are needed to maximise protection - the first one just after the first birthday and the second at around three years and four months of age.

But a number of parents shunned the jabs after now-discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield made headlines worldwide in 1998 with claims of a link between the vaccine and autism.

His controversial findings were published in medical journal The Lancet, which retracted the article in 2010 after the General Medical Council found that Wakefield had been “dishonest” in his research. He was subsequently struck off the medical register after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Last year, scientists confirmed that there is no link between autism and the MMR vaccine, following the largest ever study of its kind.

Yet some parents are still wary about vaccinating their children.

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The NHS website says: “MMR is a safe and effective combined vaccine that protects against three separate illnesses – measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) – in a single injection.”

Urging people to make sure that they and their families are protected, 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.”

The BBC suggests that an additional “possible” reason for the recent spike in mumps cases is that the MMR vaccine’s protection may have “worn off”.

The NHS says that after two doses of the vaccine, “virtually everyone (more than 99%) will be protected against measles and rubella”, but “protection is a little lower and appears to gradually decline over several years”.

However, “mumps in vaccinated people is much less likely to lead to complications such as meningitis or painful swelling of the testes (orchitis), and vaccinated people are less likely to require admission to hospital”, the health service adds. 

Symptoms of mumps include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite, followed by swelling of the salivary glands.

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