New figures raise public fears of a mumps epidemic by showing there were 370 confirmed cases of mumps in the first four months of 2001. This figure is almost an 800% increase on the total of recorded mumps cases for the whole of 2003.
Over 75% of cases have involved people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Mumps (or Epidemic parotitis) is a viral disease of humans. Prior to the development of vaccination, it was a common childhood disease worldwide, and is still a significant threat to health in the third world. It causes painful enlargement of the salivary or parotid glands.
The mumps are caused by a paramyxovirus, which is spread from person to person by saliva droplets or direct contact with articles that have been contaminated with infected saliva. The parotid glands (the salivary glands between the ear and the jaw) are usually involved. Children between the ages of 2 and 12 are most commonly infected, but the infection can occur in other age groups. In older people, other organs may become involved including the testes, the central nervous system, the pancreas, the prostate, the breasts, and other organs. The incubation period is usually 12 to 24 days.
MMR immunization (vaccine) protects against measles, mumps and rubella and should be given to children 15 months old. The vaccination is repeated in some locations between 4 to 6 years of age, or between 11 and 12 years of age if not previously given. See also immunizations - general overview.
There is no specific treatment for mumps. Symptoms may be relieved by the application of intermittent ice or heat to the affected neck area, acetaminophen - oral for pain relief (do not give aspirin to children with a viral illness because of the risk of Reye's syndrome). Warm salt water gargles, soft foods, and extra fluids may also help relieve symptoms.
Health minister Malcolm Chisholm said the figures stressed the importance for everyone to have the measles, mumps and rubella jag.
He said: "This is a matter of great concern. The main message from this is that people should get the injection."
While most people develop an immunity to the disease eventually, more than three-quarters of the cases across the country have been among people aged 15 to 24 with no immunity.
People born before 1988 did not get a routine vaccination to prevent mumps as this was only included when MMR was introduced.
Uptake levels for the vaccine dropped after a study suggested giving the MMR jab to babies could be linked to autism. But later studies have not been able to find a link and almost all the scientists behind the study have now withdrawn their support for the claim.
A spokesman for the British Medical Association today called for a mass immunisation programme and warned that further outbreaks will occur unless there is an increase in the uptake of the vaccine.