Miserable mumps makes a comeback

There is concern in the UK at the growing number of outbreaks of mumps among children and young people.

Researchers from Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust say that the fall in uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine may lead to more cases of the illness in younger children.

The Health Protection Agency, in another report also say that in 2004 the number of mumps notifications in England and Wales increased to 16,436 – up from 4,204 the year before.

According to the agency most cases were in adults born before 1988, when the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab was introduced, who would not have been routinely scheduled to have the vaccine.

The team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ say the UK is in the grip of a nationwide mumps epidemic, and are stressing the importance of MMR being given.

Doctors, who are required by law to report cases, notified that in January alone there were almost 5,000 cases.

Most patients, say the researchers, were aged between 19 and 23 but they expect cases in younger children to occur due to the decrease in uptake of MMR among infants.

Research published in 1998 which suggested a link between MMR and autism, a claim strongly rejected by the majority of experts, and consequently disproved in a number of later studies, caused panic among some parents.

The World Health Organisation recommends MMR coverage of 90% to prevent mumps but the uptake among two-year-olds in the UK fell from around 92% in early 1995 to around 80% in 2003/4, according to the Guy’s and St Thomas’ team.

Mumps usually begins with a headache and fever for a day or two before swelling of the salivary glands in front of and below the ears, which lasts four to eight days. The mouth may also feel dry, chewing and swallowing may be sore, while fever, headaches, tiredness, lack of appetite, and mild stomach pain may also occur.

It is usually a mild illness but there may be complications including meningitis, deafness in one ear, and inflammation of the pancreas or heart, there may also be inflammation of the testicles which is uncommon in young children but happens to one in four males over 12 who have the illness.

No medication kills the mumps virus and treatment aims to alleviate the symptoms until the body’s immune system copes with it.

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