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HSE issues mumps warning as 132 cases reported last week - the highest weekly number in over a decade

Symptoms of mumps include fever, headache and painful swollen salivary glands.

Image: Shutterstock/PhotobyTawat

Updated Jan 17th 2020, 10:12 PM

THE HSE HAS warned students at colleges and universities to ensure they are fully vaccinated against mumps. 

There were a total of 132 cases of mumps reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) last week. The HSE confirmed that this is the highest weekly number of reported cases in over a decade.

“During the 2019 outbreak period there were other weeks where in excess of 120 notifications were made in any one week.

“During the 2009 outbreak there were a number of weeks when the number of notifications exceeded this number reported [last week],” a spokesperson told TheJournal.ie

There were 62 cases in the first week of 2020. More of the recent cases have been in the east of the country. 

There were about 2,500 reported mumps cases nationwide in 2019, up from 573 in 2018.

The number of cases has fluctuated in recent years, with a spike in 2015. There were 291 cases in 2017, 488 in 2016, 2,014 in 2015 and 742 in 2014.

mumps age and gender Source: HPSC

Mumps is spread between people by coughing and sneezing and can be transmitted through direct contact with saliva. Symptoms include fever, headache and painful swollen salivary glands.

Mumps activity peaked in May of 2019, but it declined during the summer months. However, mumps cases began increasing again in the second week of September.

This coincided with the reopening of schools, colleges, institutes of technology and universities. At the time, universities in Dublin issued warnings to students about the outbreak. 

Warning to students 

The HSE has now issued fresh warnings over mumps outbreaks around the country as students begin returning to colleges and universities.

In the current outbreak, the greatest number of cases are in the 15-24 age group and the median age of cases is 20 years old.

A HSE spokesperson said there were low levels of uptake of the MMR vaccine among this age group when they were two years old, in 2001 and 2002. 

“The immunisation uptake for children aged 24 months in the relevant period of 2002 (the current 19-year-old age cohort) was 75%.

“Therefore this cohort had a history of low MMR uptake at 24 months. This may be one of the reasons contributing to the mumps outbreak,” the spokesperson told us.  

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland earlier, HSE assistant national director of public health Dr Kevin Kelleher said that outbreaks are happening because a large portion of 15 to 30-year-olds in Ireland don’t have full protection against mumps. 

“It’s a consequence of the fact that a large-ish portion of our 15 to 30-year-olds have not got a full protection against mumps from the MMR vaccine because not all of them are getting the vaccine or are only having one dose,” Kelleher said.

“You need to have at least two doses to protect yourself properly,” he added. 

The HSE has asked students to check their vaccination status before returning to college. 

“If they’re not sure at all, just have a vaccine before you go back to college,” Kelleher said. 

“You really do need to make sure before you go back to college that you have the vaccine,” he said. 

“What we’re really trying to do is to ensure that this doesn’t on to the point where it will start affecting students’ performance, particularly around the time of exams later in the year.” 

Vaccinations

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said the best protection against mumps is to be age-appropriately vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. 

Children are routinely recommended the MMR vaccine at 12 months and at the age of five to six through the national immunisation programme. 

Older children and adults particularly those born since 1978, who never had the MMR vaccine or only one dose, should speak to their GP about getting the vaccine, the HPSC advised. 

Receiving two doses of MMR vaccine will protect about 88% of individuals who have received the vaccine against clinical mumps.

With reporting by Órla Ryan 

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