Number of Mumps Cases in England Hits 10-year High

Dawn O'Shea

February 19, 2020

Provisional data from Public Health England (PHE) show that there were 5042 laboratory-confirmed cases of mumps in England in 2019 – almost five times the number of cases (1066) in 2018. This is the highest number of cases since 2009.

PHE says the rise in cases looks set to continue in 2020, with 546 confirmed cases in January 2020 compared with 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 the so-called 'Wakefield cohorts' – young adults born in the late 1990s and early 2000s who missed out on the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine when they were children. These cohorts are now old enough to attend college and university and are likely to continue fuelling outbreaks into 2020, PHE says.

'Anti-vax Information' 

Commenting on the figures, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, said: "The rise in mumps cases is alarming and yet another example of the long-term damage caused by anti-vax information."

He added: "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."

The Health Secretary said a vaccine strategy will soon be published and will outline the plan to increase uptake of MMR vaccine as well as limit the spread of vaccine misinformation and ensure every child receives two doses of their MMR vaccination.

Experts have reacted to the figures via the Science Media Centre.

Dr David Elliman, consultant in community child health, said: "The reasons for the increase in mumps is complex.  The mumps component of the MMR is less effective and the protection is known to wear off.  Many of the people who are developing mumps now were due to have the vaccine when the scare about MMR was at its height.  It is not a reflection of current uptake rates.  It is never too late to have the vaccine.  If someone is not sure whether they have had two doses of vaccine, they should go to their GP.  No harm will come if they have extra doses."

Prof Helen Bedford, professor of child public health, UCL, said: "It is of concern that we are seeing large numbers of cases of mumps.  These are mainly occurring among older teens and young adults who either had no doses of MMR vaccine when they were young or only had one dose.  However, we also know that the immunity from mumps vaccine can wane over time.  This means you can still get mumps even if fully vaccinated; although mumps can be nasty especially in people past puberty, it is usually much milder in previously vaccinated people, so the best way to avoid mumps is to get the vaccine.  If you haven't been vaccinated, it's never too late to have the MMR vaccine.  Two doses are needed for best protection."

Adapted from Univadis from Medscape.

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