Mumps cases rise fourfold in a year

14 Feb 2020
Mumps cases rise fourfold in a year

Cases of mumps are at the highest point for a decade. Mumps is a viral infection that used to be common in children before the introduction of the MMR vaccine.

Before the MMR vaccine was introduced, mumps was the most common cause of viral meningitis.

Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows that there were over 5000 lab-confirmed cases of mumps in England in 2019, compared to 1,066 cases in 2018. This is the highest number of annual cases since 2009.
It is most recognisable by the painful swelling of the glands at the side of the face, giving a person with mumps a distinctive ‘hamster face’ appearance. If you suspect that you or a family member has mumps, contact your GP.

"Vaccination prevents most cases of mumps and even if a vaccinated person does get mumps, they are likely to experience a less severe illness ."- Linda Glennie, Director of Research, MRF

Although most people usually recover from mumps without treatment, in some cases it can cause complications.  Infrequent complications include viral meningitis, deafness and inflammation of the testicles.

Most people recover from viral meningitis without long-lasting problems and it rarely causes death, however after effects can include memory loss, deafness, depression, anxiety, attention deficits and subtle neurological effects later in life.

The rise in mumps looks set to continue in 2020, with 546 confirmed cases in January 2020 compared to 191 during the same period in 2019.

The steep rise in cases in 2019 has been largely driven by outbreaks in universities and colleges. Many of the cases in 2019 were seen in young adults born in the late nineties and early 2000s who missed out on the MMR vaccine when they were children after a disgraced doctor falsely linked the vaccine to autism. These cohorts are now old enough to attend college and university and are likely to continue fuelling outbreaks into 2020.

Linda Glennie, Director of Research at Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) said: “Mumps meningitis can be a frightening, although infrequent complication of mumps.  MRF encourages everyone to get the vaccinations they are eligible for as immunisation is best way to protect yourself from mumps. Vaccination prevents most cases of mumps and even if a vaccinated person does get mumps, they are likely to experience a less severe illness.”

In a statement made to the press, Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at Public Health England, said: “The best protection against mumps and its complications is to have 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. It’s never too late to catch up.

“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.”

Vaccine hesitancy is one of the biggest threats to global health. But why does it happen?

Viral meningitis is almost never life-threatening and viruses rarely cause septicaemia.


Since people often recover from viral meningitis without medical treatment, it is difficult to measure how many cases of viral meningitis cases occur each year, but it is probably much more common than bacterial meningitis.

There are safe and effective vaccines available that that protect against the most common causes of life-threatening bacterial meningitis and septicaemia
Vaccines are one of the most effective public health interventions in history, saving billions of lives since the first vaccine was produced in 1798. So how exactly do they work?
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