More outbreaks of mumps are continuing to be reported in Exeter, following a spate in the city.

Last week, eight news cases in Devon were reported to Public Health England (PHE). Of those, five were from Exeter. Other areas with just a single case were East Devon, Torridge and West Devon.

Each week, PHE compiles a list of notifications of infectious diseases.

Last week in Devon there was also one incident of measles in North Devon, two cases of scarlet fever, one in East Devon and the other in West Devon, and two incidents of food poisoning, one in Teignmouth and one in West Devon.

Two months ago Devon Live reported how there were fears of a mumps outbreak at Exeter after seven new cases were listed in the city on one week.

 

A number of cases were reported among students at the university, prompting PHE to urge students to get MMR vaccinations.

PHE have been continuing to monitor the outbreak while reminding students to be alert to symptoms of mumps.

A spokesperson for PHE England said: “There have been six suspected cases of mumps in the last 28 days in Exeter. Of these, two cases have links to the university.

“Our previous advice still stands about the importance of the MMR vaccination and exclusion from work, school, universities etc.”

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Mumps is most recognisable by painful swellings at the side of the face under the ears. The advice to anyone who suspects that they or a family member has mumps is that they stay away from lessons, exams, social gatherings.

Some people suffer complications that can include inflammation of the pancreas, viral meningitis (inflammation of the brain), inflamed and swollen testicles in men and ovaries in women.

Mumps can also cause deafness.

To be fully protected, children and adults need to have two doses of the MMR vaccine. 

Symptoms to look out for in mumps

Mumps is a contagious viral infection that used to be common in children before the introduction of the MMR vaccine, the NHS says.

It’s most recognisable by the painful swellings at 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.

When to see your GP

It’s important to contact your GP if you suspect mumps so a diagnosis can be made. While mumps isn’t usually serious, the condition has similar symptoms to more serious types of infection, such as glandular fever and tonsillitis.

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.

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.

If your GP suspects mumps, they should notify your local health protection team (HPT). The HPT will arrange for a sample of saliva to be tested to confirm or rule out the diagnosis.

How mumps is spread

Mumps is spread in the same way as colds and flu – through infected droplets of saliva that can be inhaled or picked up from surfaces and transferred into the mouth or nose.  

A person is most contagious a few days before the symptoms develop and for a few days afterwards.

During this time, it’s important to prevent the infection spreading to others, particularly teenagers and young adults who haven’t been vaccinated.

If you have mumps, you can help prevent it spreading by:

  • regularly washing your hands with soap
  • using and disposing of tissues when you sneeze
  • avoiding school or work for at least 5 days after your symptoms first develop

Preventing mumps

You can protect your child against mumps by making sure they’re given the combined MMR vaccine (for mumps, measles and rubella).

The MMR vaccine is part of the routine NHS childhood immunisation schedule. Your child should be given 1 dose when they are around 12-13 months and a second booster dose at 3 years and 4 months. Once both doses are given, the vaccine provides 95% protection against mumps.

Treatment for mumps

There’s currently no cure for mumps, but the infection should pass within 1 or 2 weeks.

Treatment is used to relieve symptoms and includes:

  • getting plenty of bed rest and fluids
  • using painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol – aspirin shouldn’t be given to children under 16
  • applying a warm or cool compress to the swollen glands to help relieve pain

Read more about treating mumps.

Complications

Mumps usually passes without causing serious damage to a person’s health. Serious complications are rare.

However, mumps can lead to viral meningitis if the virus moves into the outer layer of the brain. Other complications include swelling of the testicles or ovaries (if the affected person has gone through puberty).

Read more about the complications of mumps.

Who is affected

Most cases of mumps occur in young adults (usually born between 1980 and 1990) who didn’t receive the MMR vaccine as part of their childhood vaccination schedule or didn’t have mumps as a child. 

Once you’ve been infected by the mumps virus, you normally develop a life-long immunity to further infection.

 

PHE’s advice to anyone who suspects that they or a family member has mumps is that they stay away from lessons, exams, social gatherings and work for five days after the glands swell and seek medical advice. Any student who is unsure that they have had two MMR vaccinations should contact their GP for a catch-up MMR vaccine.

Parents are also encouraged to check that their child has had two doses of the vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella, and if not, to make arrangements for the vaccination with their GP surgery.

Sarah Woodhall, specialty registrar in Public Health at Public Health England South West said: “We know that mumps can spread quickly from person to person which is why we often see cases in close knit communities such as schools, universities and colleges.

“Symptoms usually begin with a headache and fever, followed by a swelling of glands in the neck. Although most people usually recover without treatment, in some cases it can cause complications such as inflammation of the testicles or ovaries, and in rare cases, meningitis and deafness.

 

“We are encouraging students who are not sure if they have had two doses of the MMR vaccine to arrange to complete their vaccination with their GP as soon as possible.

“Vaccination is the safest and most effective way to protect against the infection, especially when we know it is circulating in the community. It prevents most, but not all, cases of mumps and even if a vaccinated person does get mumps, they will likely have less severe illness than an unvaccinated person. The MMR vaccination also protects against the more serious illnesses measles and rubella (German measles).”

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