Reported cases of mumps have risen to their highest level in a decade, with outbreaks at universities being touted as the main source of the steep incline in cases.
There were 5,042 lab-confirmed cases of the mumps in 2019, which was up from 1,066 in 2018 and the rise is set to continue in 2020 with over double the number of confirmed cases in January 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
Of the reported cases in 2019, 43% manifested in young adults aged 17 to 21, with the North West being found to have the most cases in the country. About half of the confirmed cases were found in those who were unvaccinated.
The outbreaks at universities has been linked to a large number of unvaccinated students (over 25,000) who started university in the Autumn 2019.
Having contact with those infected with mumps over prolonged periods of time can see the infection easily spread from person to person. As a result, halls of residence and student events at nightclubs have been deemed as hotspots for transmission.
In light of the outbreaks, Public Health England have reiterated the importance of getting vaccinated if you missed out on the jabs as a child.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, the Consultant Epidemiologist at Public Health England, stressed that it is “never too late to catch up” and that the “best protection against mumps and its complications is to have two doses of the MMR vaccine.”
She added: “We encourage all students and young people who may have missed out on their MMR vaccine in the past to contact their GP practice and get up to date as soon as possible.”
The rise is deemed to be the result of the Wakefield scare that occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many of the students who began university in 2019 were part of the group of children who went unvaccinated due to the findings of the research paper issued by Andrew Wakefield. The paper claimed there was a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, a finding which has since been proven to be false.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock referred to the rise in cases of the mumps as another example of the “long-term damage” that anti-vax information can cause. He reiterated: “Science proves that vaccines are the best form of defence against a host of potentially deadly diseases and are safer and more effective than ever before. Those who claim otherwise are risking people’s lives.
“Our Vaccine Strategy will soon be published outlining how we will increase uptake, limit the spread of vaccine misinformation and ensure every child receives two doses of their MMR vaccination. Anyone who is unsure whether they are fully covered should contact their GP.”
For most people who suffer from mumps there are no long-term health issues, but Dr Nisha Jayatilleke, National Specialty Adviser for Immunisation at NHS England and NHS Improvement, believes that such a steep rise in cases of the infection is still a cause of concern as it can lead, for some patients, “to life-long complications like meningitis, deafness and even infertility.”