As you may or may not have read, various universities around the UK have been hit by a mini-mumps outbreak, including Dublin and Nottingham. This October, an unnamed 3rd-year medic added ICSM to that list. While no more than 10 or so people have had confirmed mumps so far, the highly contagious nature of the illness, coupled with the fact that it is contagious before it is symptomatic, mean that we are likely to see this number increase drastically in the coming weeks and months. Outrage has ensued, coming from Imperial College students mainly. The focal questions being thrown around were: “Why wasn’t this person vaccinated?” and “How stupid could medics be to get mumps?”
As it turns out, they had been vaccinated. In fact, every person I know who has been infected has had their MMR vaccine. Why, then, has this mumps outbreak begun? Is it a result of a lack of herd vaccination or is this some new strain that we are not protected against? It appears that every new article discussing this issue suggests that the efficacy of MMR vaccines is lower and lower. From 95% to 84% to 80% and even less, perhaps this vaccine simply isn’t good enough.
The disease itself, at least in the way it has been presenting in our students, has thankfully not been too serious. The obvious painful swelling of the parotid glands and general malaise are the only common symptoms I have been hearing of, and following a week or two of quarantine, every infected person I know has made a full recovery. However, the issue remains that mumps has the potential to be a serious disease and it is highly unlikely that it will affect every infected person in the same way.
If mumps keeps spreading, then chances are that someone will experience one or more of the serious associated complications, such as meningitis, orchitis or oophoritis (swelling of testicles and ovaries respectively).
Indeed, mumps outbreaks among students are not unusual. Multiple universities have reported outbreaks in the last decade or more – even here in London, UCL had mumps just two years ago and KCL six years ago. The huge diversity in backgrounds that we find at universities, especially ones with high international student intake, creates an environment in which contagious diseases prosper. If we also add unvaccinated students to this melting pot, and the fact that the mumps part of the MMR vaccine is not as effective as the others, it is not all that surprising at all that we are no longer a mumps-free university.
What’s the solution? Some university towns, such as Exeter, have in the past implemented catch-up immunisation programmes for under-25s. For us, though, the current advice is bed rest, painkillers and quarantine. As long as the disease is not too serious, the most important thing to do is to stop the spread.
On a serious note, if you do start noticing that your face is getting a little swollen, make sure you get it checked out. Even after the swelling reduces, the disease is still contagious for up to a week, so it is best to remain qua- rantined until a week after symptoms disappear. Thanks for reading, this report has got me feeling tired. Why does my face hurt so much?