Why are cases of mumps increasing?

A file image of a vaccination.
A file image of a vaccination. / SUR
  • The rise is linked to a vaccine that was used in the 1990s in Andalucía which was less effective

Every three or four years there is a new outbreak of mumps, a viral infection that is characterised by inflammation of the salivary glands. As a means of prevention, children are given the MMR vaccination (a vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella). However in the 1990s (particularly between 1993 and 1997) the vaccination that was used on children contained some errors and was less effective at preventing mumps, or parotiditis. The consequence is that young adults today are more likely to get the illness.

So far this year, cases of parotiditis have quadrupled with 277 registered as opposed to 70 last year.

Experts consulted by SUR indicated that in the 1990s there were some mistakes in the MMR vaccination. When measuring antibody levels in patients it was found that in those years the vaccine had not given sufficient immunity to offer a very high protection against the infection. The question that people are asking, therefore, is: why are vaccinated people still getting mumps?

The response is related to the fact that the dose of the MMR vaccine that was used on children in the 1990s gave less protection against the infection, since it contained the Rubini strain, which only provides a minor immunisation against mumps.

Sources at the Ministry of Health told SUR that since the first use of the vaccination, at the start of the 1980s, cases of mumps have decreased in both Andalucía and Spain. However, there are times when larger numbers of cases of mumps have been reported. The sources specified that the cases are in young adults and are mild.

The MMR is included in the routine childhood immunisation schedule. Currently, two doses are administered, one at 12 months and another at three years. The ministry estimates that the protection provided by the MMR vaccine in Andalucía is around 97 per cent after the second dose. Sources also stressed that, in regard to parotiditis, the vaccine does not protect one hundred per cent, so isolated or clustered cases can occur. According to protocol, on all occasions where someone has contracted mumps, the same procedure is followed: identify the people in their close surroundings, check who is vaccinated and vaccinate those who are not. Those born before 1966, however, are exempt, because they are considered already immunised through previously catching the infection naturally.

In Andalucía

This year so far, in Andalucía 1,945 cases of mumps have been registered. Of those 277 are in the province of Malaga. In 2018, 885 cases were registered in Andalucía, of those 70 were in Malaga. In regards to the several students from the Faculty of Communication Science who caught mumps, prompting warnings to young people to get a vaccination, the Ministry of Health has released a message to give peace of mind, since "it is a situation which is normal".

Mumps is the common name for parotiditis, a viral infection characterised not only by the inflammation of the salivary glands, but also other symptoms including a fever, headaches, joint pain or a lack of appetite.

Transmission of the infection is through saliva droplets - when talking, sneezing and coughing - or by direct contact with an infected individual's saliva.