Mumps cases rise to highest level in decade – symptoms of the infection to look out for

Mumps cases spiked in 2019, with outbreaks in universities and colleges raising the number of cases of the viral infection to 5,042 in 2019 – a fourfold increase on the previous year. Most cases of mumps have been reported in young adults who missed out on the MMR jab so health officials are urging people to get vaccinated. While the virus isn’t usually a cause for concern it can lead to viral meningitis if the virus moves into the outer layer of the brain so it is important to recognise and act on the warning signs.

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What are the warning signs?

According the NHS, mumps is most recognisable by the painful swellings in the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands), giving a person with mumps a distinctive “hamster face” appearance.

Other symptoms of mumps include headaches, joint pain and a high temperature, which may develop a few days before the swelling of the parotid glands.

According to Mayo Clinic, when signs and symptoms do develop, they usually appear about two to three weeks after exposure to the virus.

How can I protect myself against mumps?

The MMR vaccine is a safe and effective way to safeguard yourself against developing mumps.

In response to the surge in mumps cases, Dr Vanessa Saliba, from Public Health England, is urging young adults to get the vaccine.

She said: “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.”

Children up to the age of 18 who missed, or only partially completed, their earlier MMR vaccination can have a “catch-up” MMR vaccination on the NHS.

The MMR vaccine is given as a single injection into the muscle of the thigh or upper arm.

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When should I alert my GP?

It’s important to contact a GP if you suspect mumps so a diagnosis can be made.

“While mumps is not usually serious, the condition has similar symptoms to more serious types of infection, such as glandular fever and tonsillitis,” explains the NHS.

Your GP can usually make a diagnosis after seeing and feeling the swelling, looking at the position of the tonsils in the mouth and checking the person’s temperature to see if it’s higher than normal, notes the health body.

Let your GP know in advance if you’re coming to the surgery so they can take any necessary precautions to prevent the spread of infection, it adds.

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How to treat mumps

There’s currently no cure for mumps, but the infection should pass within 1 or two weeks.

According to the NHS, treatment is used to relieve symptoms and includes:

  • Getting plenty of bed rest and fluids
  • Using painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol – aspirin should not be Given to children under 16
  • Applying a warm or cool compress to the swollen glands to help relieve pain

What are the common complications of mumps?

There are several problems that often occur with mumps.

“These can be worrying, but they’re rarely serious and usually improve as the infection passes,” says the NHS.

A common complication is pain and swelling of the testicle (orchitis), which affects one in four males who get mumps after puberty, notes the NHS.

One in 20 females who get mumps after puberty also experience swelling of the ovaries (oophoritis), says the health body.

Mumps can also lead to viral meningitis, which can occur if the mumps virus spreads into the outer protective layer of the brain (the meninges).

The NHS explains: “Unlike bacterial meningitis, which is regarded as a potentially life-threatening medical emergency, viral meningitis causes milder, flu-like symptoms, and the risk of serious complications is low.”

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