It used to be that up to 90 per cent of kids in the UK were affected by mumps at some point in their lives. The MMR jab, introduced in 1988, made the condition much less common, but since the mid-noughties, when immunisation rates fell it’s been on the rise. In 2005 there was a major epidemic in the UK. 43,000 cases were reported, compared to just 100 in 1996. It’s believed that this was the result of kids who hadn’t been immunised when they were younger catching the disease.
Mumps is a glandular infection that can affect anyone, but children are more at risk than adults. It causes pain and swelling in the salivary glands, which are just below the ears. It can last for between a week and 10 days and as well as swelling round the jaw or throat, symptoms include a dry mouth and difficulty chewing and swallowing. There may also be fever, a headache, tiredness, stomach pains and aching joints.
Mumps is an infectious virus and there’s no specific medicine to prescribe for it. Instead the body’s own anti-immune system kicks in and fights the disease off itself, though painkillers, such as junior paracetamol, can help reduce the symptoms. It’s passed in the same way as a cold – through someone with the infection coughing or sneezing. Objects which someone infected has handled can also carry the virus. It takes between two and three weeks for the symptoms to start showing, and kids are infectious throughout this period. If your child does start to show the symptoms of mumps you should go and see your doctor because, in very rare cases, it’s possible for complications to arise.
There was some anxiety in the media in the 1990s about giving kids the all-in-one MMR vaccine. This has since been proved to be groundless and the best advice is to make sure your child has the jab at around 13 months, and the follow-up booster before they start school between the ages of 3 and 5. Experts agree this is the single best way to keep them free from mumps, as well as measles and rubella.
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