Welsh health officials warn of mumps epidemic in Swansea|
SWANSEA, Wales: Welsh health officials are warning of a mumps epidemic in Swansea after new figures showed a dramatic rise in the number of cases across Wales during thr first quarter of the year.
Experts say the cases are among young people who have missed the combined MMR jab, which was introduced in 1988.
According to new figures out on March 28, almost 1,400 cases were reported to the Health Protection Agency in the first 10 weeks of 2005 - compared with around 1,700 in the whole of last year.
Dozens of pupils in Swansea schools have been hit by the illness during the past six months, including Olchfa, Gowerton and Pentrehafod. Swansea University students were affected, too.
Medical experts are now warning parents of children who have not been vaccinated to stay away from people they know with mumps.
Dr Meirion Evans, consultant epidemiologist with the national Public Health Service for Wales, said the rise in cases of mumps could be traced back to the beginning of 2004, when figures were quite high.
"Most of the people affected are older teenagers and the young twenties and, thankfully, in that age group, symptoms are, by and large, quite mild," said Dr Evans. "It's mainly explained by the fact that the MMR vaccine, which protects against mumps, came in at the end of 1988, so many people in this age-group won't have had the vaccine offered to them as babies."
A small proportion of youngsters today have not had the MMR jab and Dr Evans said that meant there would be another group of teenagers in the future who had not been protected against mumps.
Dr Evans issued advice for people at risk of contracting mumps: "Firstly, if you know someone who has got mumps and you now you have never had the jab yourself, stay away from them.
"Secondly, the MMR vaccine is still available to people of that age, and where there have been outbreaks at universities or schools, often a local programme has been commenced to offer it."
The MMR jab was introduced as a triple vaccination for children around the age of 13 months in 1988. The second booster dose was introduced routinely for three-and-a-half-year-olds in 1996.
The triple vaccine has been the subject of fierce debate since, with hotly disputed claims that it can lead to autism.
Current uptake levels in Swansea stand at around 74 per cent, compared with an all-Wales figure of 82 per cent.
In 2003, there were more than 70 cases of mumps in Swansea, but the same figure was rweached by September 2004.
(Source: South Wales Evening Post, March 28, 2005)