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MMR and Mumps - your questions answered

publication date: Apr 15, 2010
author/source: David Salisbury
Prof David SalisburyHow would I recognise whether my child has mumps?

Mumps can lead to fever, headache, and painful, swollen glands in the face, neck and jaw.

It's a mild infection though, there's no need to be worried about it is there?

Although some of the symptoms are mild, mumps can result in permanent deafness, viral meningitis and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Much rarer, but very painful complications of mumps include inflammation of the pancreas and of the ovaries and testicles.

Pregnant women who develop mumps during the first 12 to 16 weeks of pregnancy (the first trimester) have a slightly higher risk of miscarriage, but there is no evidence that mumps can cause deformities in an unborn child.

How infectious is mumps?

The virus is about as infectious as flu and is transmitted by direct contact with saliva or droplets from the saliva of an infected person. Mumps is also spread through the air on tiny droplets of moisture that are expelled when someone coughs or sneezes and these droplets are breathed in by someone else

How great is the risk of me catching it?

There were 2886 confirmed mumps cases in England as reported by the Health Protection Agency at the beginning of 2009; an increase of more than twice that reported towards the end of 2008.

The cases continue to be predominantly in young adults (people born between 1980 and 1990) who would not have been routinely offered MMR vaccination in childhood or have only received one dose.

Why are teenagers most susceptible to the disease?

Most of the cases of mumps have occurred in adolescents or young adults because they were too old to be offered MMR when it was introduced in 1988 or to have had a second dose when this was introduced in 1996. As children, they had not been previously exposed to natural mumps infection and therefore remain susceptible to the disease.

In late 2004, there was an increase in mumps that was linked to those born between 1980 and 1987 – with most of the outbreaks occurring in higher education institutions.

Teens in schools, colleges and universities are particularly at risk of catching mumps as it is easily spread in areas where there are large populations of unvaccinated young adults and within areas where young people are living in close proximity.

How can I prevent this disease affecting me and my family?

There is an effective vaccine against mumps: the MMR jab, which is best received in two doses, one just after your child's first birthday, and the other when they are three.

This schedule provides the best protection; however, where doses are missed it is possible to have them later.

Before the MMR vaccine, which also protects against measles and rubella, was introduced, 1200 people a year actually went into hospital as a result of the disease; mumps was also the most common cause of viral meningitis for children under 15. It is never too late to be immunised with the MMR jab, so visit your GP to find out if your teen's jabs are up to date.

What if I have a teenager who missed the jab?

Teenagers can be protected against mumps by having two doses of the MMR vaccine. The MMR vaccination is not just for children and if young adults aren't immunised with it, they are at risk of getting mumps.

It's never too late for unprotected teenagers and young adults to get immunised. Teens are advised to check they have had two doses of the MMR jab, particularly before heading off to college or university. Anyone up to the age of 18 who hasn't had the immunisation should arrange it through their GP. Individuals who already are in higher education can get in touch with their campus GP for further information on mumps and the MMR vaccine.

I don't remember if my teenager had the jab, what shall I do?

If teens don't know whether they've had the MMR vaccine, having another dose won't do any harm, so they should arrange vaccination through their GP. The most important thing is that individuals have had the full two doses so that they are properly immunised.