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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Fears grow as mumps cases rise
All children are offered the MMR vaccinations
Doctors have warned parents to immunise their children after a dramatic rise in the number of mumps cases.

Public health experts are blaming the upsurge on the numbers of youngsters missing out on vaccination boosters.

There is still controversy over the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

But doctors say the increase in mumps cases illustrates the importance of giving children protection against the disease.

If parents do not ensure their children are protected then there will be a real price to pay later

Dr Martin Schweiger

The problem is particularly bad in northern England.

Nearly half of all cases of the virus in England and Wales are in Yorkshire and the North East.

Bradford and Leeds both recorded far more outbreaks of the illness than last year.

Dr Martin Schweiger, consultant in public health at Leeds Health Authority, said: "This increase shows it is vital that youngsters are vaccinated against these illnesses.

"If parents do not ensure their children are protected then there will be a real price to pay later."

According to latest figures from the Public Health Laboratory Service, there were 176 cases of mumps in Leeds during the first three months of 2001, compared with 18 over the same period last year.

In Bradford there were 153 cases of the illness between January and March and only five in the first three months of 2000.

Rise expected

Health experts said the rise was expected because youngsters were not given boosters against mumps.

Children were immunised against measles and rubella in separate booster injections.

Theses did not offer protection against mumps.

Dr Schweiger said: "It was thought that there was going to be a rise in the cases of measles and rubella so we embarked on a massive immunisation programme and offered protection to every child in the UK.

Insufficient supplies

"This has kept levels of these illnesses down.

"We would have offered a similar vaccination for mumps but there were insufficient supplies."

Dr Schweiger said he feared there would be a similar rise in cases of all three diseases if children went without immunisation.

Some parents are refusing to allow their children to have the injection because of fears the MMR vaccine could be linked to autism.

However the Department of Health - backed by the overwhelming majority of medical opinion - insist the vaccination is safe.

Serious impact

About a third of those affected in the latest mumps cases were aged over 15, when the impact of the disease can be more serious.

Dr Schweiger said: "In older children mumps can lead to inflammation of the brain or pancreas.

"There is no cure and all we can do is make sufferers as comfortable as possible.

"There can be no stronger warning against not having your children immunised than this increase in cases of mumps."

All children are offered the chance to have the MMR vaccine within their first two years and a further booster is given before they start school.

See also:

29 Aug 01 | Health
The case for vaccination
06 Aug 01 | Health
Doctor faces ban over MMR
05 Jul 01 | BMA Conference
Doctors attack MMR refuseniks
12 Apr 01 | Health
'Super-measles' warning
25 Feb 01 | Health
Single measles jab call from GPs
09 Feb 01 | Health
MMR 'cleared' of autism link
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