More on Mumps

In the latest paper edition of the Gown, we report on the recent Mumps outbreak at Elms Village. For those of you asking, “What is a mump, anyway?” Medical Student, MICHAEL GRANT, answers all of your questions…

Mumps virus protein in cultured cells – Wellcome Images – Flickr

While the mumps is a preventable condition, it is on the rise in recent years – especially among university students – but why is this, what exactly is the mumps and how can we prevent ourselves from catching it?

The only time many of us even hear the word mumps is when someone refers to the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine. We’re lucky enough to live in a country where – thanks to the vaccination program – we have had a very low incidence of the disease since the adoption of the MMR vaccine in 1988. However, in 1998 a report in medical journal The Lancet claimed that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism in children. This was proved incorrect and that the link between the conditions was unfounded, but not before the widespread concerns reduced the number of parents taking their 1-year-olds for the first dose of the vaccine or their school-age children for the booster. It was this downturn in the rates of vaccination that has lead to the recent outbreaks of all three of the conditions that the vaccine protects against. Unfortunately for many students at Queen’s in their late teens or early twenties, this means that some of us are either under-vaccinated or not vaccinated at all.

The mumps itself is a viral condition that produces swelling of salivary glands (usually the parotid glands, found on the sides of the cheeks) sometimes along with fever, dry mouth, headache, loss of appetite, feelings of discomfort and – occasionally – a rash or, in men, a painful swelling of the testes. The disease is produced by the mumps virus and is spread from person to person by exposure to an infected persons saliva or phlegm. This highlights the truth in the old saying, “coughs and sneezes spread diseases”, as it is these two actions that are common means for the transmission of the disease. The virus particles – either when aerosolised by a coughing or sneezing or when come into contact with on surfaces touched by someone with the infection – can enter the body through the eyes, nose or mouth. From here it travels to, usually, the parotid glands where it begins to replicate which triggers the inflammation and swelling of the glands.

The best way to avoid the condition is simply reducing contact with the infected and anything they have come in contact with, maintaining frequent hand-washing and making sure your vaccinations are up-to-date.

Treatment for the condition is simply a management of the pain associated with it using paracetamol or ibuprofen but NOT aspirin, as there has been links between the it’s use in treatment of viral conditions with the development of Reye’s syndrome. While there is no cure, the infection usually runs it’s course within about a fortnight with no long term side effects although in post-pubescent males there can be the chance of fertility complications if they do present with swelling of the testes (known as orchitis). If you suspect that you have the mumps, seek an appointment with your GP as soon as possible – making sure to tell them in advance that you suspect you may have the mumps so they can take precautions to reduce the chances of cross-infection.

However it’s not all doom and gloom as, in August, it was reported that more children than ever – over 95% – in Northern Ireland are receiving the vaccine with Chief Medical Officer, and Queen’s University alumnus, Dr. Michael McBride was quoted as saying, “These new figures are excellent but there is still some room for improvement.

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