Universities have recently been hotspots for mumps outbreaks and so we are reminding all students to make sure they have had two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.
What’s the issue?
In 2019, there were over 5,000 lab-confirmed cases of mumps in England, the highest number seen in a decade. The steep rise in cases has been largely driven by outbreaks in universities and colleges, with most of the cases in young people and adults aged 15 to 35 years. In fact, many of the cases in 2019 were seen in the so-called ‘Wakefield cohorts’ – young adults born in the late nineties and early 2000s who missed out on the MMR vaccine when they were children. Over 25,000 students who never received the MMR vaccine started university last autumn.
Mumps is a contagious viral infection that used to be common in children before the introduction of the MMR vaccine. It is most recognisable by the painful swelling of the glands on the sides of the face, giving a person with mumps a distinctive "hamster face".
Other symptoms include headaches, joint pain and fever, which may develop a few days before the swelling. Although most people usually recover from mumps without treatment, in some cases it can cause complications such as inflammation of the testicles, and in rare cases, meningitis and deafness. If you suspect that you or a friend has mumps, contact your GP.
The MMR vaccine
The safest and most effective way to protect yourself from mumps is to have two doses of the MMR vaccine. In England, the MMR vaccination is offered to all infants at the age of 1 year, with a second dose offered to children at 3 years and 4 months before they start school.
The MMR vaccine prevents most, but not all, cases of mumps. Protection from the mumps component of the MMR vaccine wanes with time, which means that in close-contact settings like universities, we do see mumps cases in vaccinated individuals. However, if a vaccinated person gets mumps, it is generally milder and not likely to lead to complications.
What do you need to do?
If you missed out on the MMR vaccine when you were younger or are not sure if you are up to date, check with your GP practice – it is never too late to catch up.
The MMR vaccine is available for free on the NHS. The vaccine will also help protect you from measles and rubella.
If you have moved to a new city for university and have registered with a new GP, they should have received your medical records and can check for you.
For more information about the MMR vaccine, see this NHS MMR leaflet.