The UK is in the grip of a mumps epidemic which struck nearly 5,000 people in January alone, say experts.
The government has a catch-up campaign for those who missed out on MMR
Cases in England and Wales soared by 12,000 to 16,436 in 2004, they say.
Most of those who have caught the virus are aged 19 to 23, but cases are also cropping up in vulnerable children, two British Medical Journal papers show.
Cases are being seen in people born before MMR became routine in 1988 and children who have not been vaccinated, possibly due to vaccine safety fears.
The BMJ findings corroborate recent reports of rising mumps rates across England, Wales and Ireland.
In the first paper, investigators at the Health Protection Agency report that in 2004, the number of cases of mumps recorded in England and Wales hit 16,436, up from 4,204 in 2003.
And in the first month of 2005, there were nearly 5,000 cases. Most were among young adults born before 1988 and who would, therefore, not have been offered MMR as a child.
In the second paper, Dr Ravindra Gupta, from London's Guy's and St Thomas', working with colleagues from King's College London, found cases have also occurring in very young children who would have been eligible for the MMR - measles, mumps and rubella - vaccine.
The World Health Organization recommends that at least 90% of all those eligible receive the vaccine.
However, Dr Gupta's group said uptake of MMR among two-year-olds in the UK fell from around 92% in early 1995 to around 80% in 2003/4.
A viral infection of the saliva-producing glands found either side of the face
Spread by coughs and sneezes
Symptoms develop 14 to 24 days after exposure
Begins with fever, shivers, tiredness and painful swelling of parotid glands
Can rarely cause serious complications
"In some areas of London, as few as 60% of two-year-olds had received a first dose of MMR.
"This would account for our recent experience with mumps in younger children," they said.
Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said the rapid rise in cases of mumps "is a very real worry".
Speaking on BBC's Breakfast programme, she said: "The most important thing for parents and for young adults who didn't get a vaccination at the normal age, is go to the GP, go to the surgery and get the vaccination done now."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The Department of Health has alerted GPs to the risk posed by mumps to young adults and recommends that every effort should be made to ensure that all children are fully immunised even if they are older than the recommended age range.
"Some higher education establishments have been offering special MMR sessions to protect these young people against mumps.
"The department supplies vaccine and leaflets for these sessions. In order to limit the spread of mumps in the UK, we recommend that all at-risk school leavers and other young adults who have not received MMR or only received one dose, should ensure that they take up the offer of MMR vaccination."
Why all the fear and loathing over what is essentially a mild childhood illness, involving a bit of discomfort - and boosting the immune system in the process. When an adult gets mumps, it can be more unpleasant and more serious, but even the much-vaunted danger of mumps-induced infertility among males is much less of a risk than usually assumed. What's all the fuss? And as has been pointed out in another e-mail: previous years have not seen epidemics of young adults suffering - it would be very useful to allow an unbiased investigation of the underlying causes, especially as evidence suggests that a high proportion of those suffering in the current outbreak were in fact fully immunised.
I'm a student at Sussex University, and there seems to be an extremely high number of people coming down with mumps on campus - while I was waiting 30 minutes for an appointment there were three people who came in with mumps. The worse thing is that the university seems to be doing nothing about it, such as putting up posters to advise about immunization, and considering that campus is such a closed environment and there are many international students who may not have been vaccinated, this is a dangerous game to play.
Clare L, Brighton
Reading between the lines, it seems many recent and current mumps sufferers did receive two shots as children but the immunity has since worn off. Perhaps there should be a third shot for teenagers?
Lesley, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
My two-year-old daughter had mumps in February - diagnosis was confirmed in hospital although no explanation given as to why the MMR vaccine had failed. My seven-year-old, who had MMR at 14 months and the pre-school booster is suffering now.
I am 31 and have had mumps recently. I was told to go to the dentists for an abscess and luckily I was diagnosed before the dentist took my one and only filling out. I count myself lucky though as it would be far more serious if I was a 31-year-old man!
Tracey, London, UK
My 17-year-old has just recovered from a very bad dose of mumps. The NHS doctor said it would take three weeks to have him tested. I went privately and got him tested immediately. Tests revealed a very high level of the virus in his blood. I can only guess at how many other people he infected at school due to the delay. Why should this test not be made available for all if the government is so worried about an "epidemic"?
People seem to forget that immunisation is the single most effective medical intervention ever, and the second most important public health intervention after a safe water supply! Immunisations are there for a reason - to contain, eliminate or eradicate disease that would otherwise cause even greater morbidity and mortality than they do now. By not immunising your child you are not only risking their health, but the health of tens of thousands of others. Without immunisations diseases like polio, smallpox and hib would still be endemic in the UK.
There seems to be a great misunderstanding of the purpose of a vaccine. It is not to prevent one from catching an infectious disease, but rather to lessen the effect if one does catch it. My grandmother was a fever nurse before the war - in the days where children died from such childhood diseases. Today, with adequate vaccinations your child is likely only to be poorly for a few days - that means the vaccination worked!
Both my children have suffered mumps recently having had only one dose of the MMR vaccine as infants. It has been known for some time that two doses were required - so why weren't they recalled and given the opportunity to have the booster. I am tired of hearing in the media that the epidemic is due to people not taking up the MMR vaccine, in mine, and many other cases, we were unaware that our children were at risk.
Mrs L Jackson, Selby, North Yorkshire
I'll never believe the so-called experts of our traditional western medical system. If you have a strong immune system your body can fight off all viruses. Once our medical experts promote the truths about how our body works, then the public can reap the rewards. There is much evidence these so called beneficial shots cause more damage than good. Why do so many babies die from crib death shortly after receiving these shots? This is only one example. I encourage all to investigate other treatments than go down the line of believing everything they are told by the system!
Gregory Langen, Chesterfield
I believe all children should be immunised and parents should have the right to choose either single jabs or the triple MMR. My husband and I after careful consideration choose to have the single jabs for my son. We have been waiting for over 18 months for the mumps vaccination. The reason given is that the Government have reduced the amount of single dose mumps vaccines that can be imported to the UK!
Karen Jones, Cheshire
Vaccinations are to lessen the chance of catching a disease they are not 100% effective but then what medication is? People do not realise the severity of these illnesses due to the fact that there has been widespread immunisation in the past, the complications of measles and mumps are horrific, why play fast and loose with your child's health and well being?
J. McCormick, Liverpool U.K.
I am quite shocked that this news report mentions nothing about the failure rate of such vaccines. Whatever one's opinion is on vaccinations, it would appear from the feedback on this site that a great many people who have been vaccinated are still getting mumps.
Naomi, Cambridge, England
I am very surprised at the UK, it does sound like a third world country of late. I lived there in the 70s and it was great, even had medical attention, no problem. Here in the US all children have to be immunized before they can attend school at 5, or they don't go! I think that's the way to do it, we hardly ever hear of mumps or other illnesses anymore.
It's quite clear that there is lack of informed debate in this country regarding the wider benefit of immunisation, accepting that there may be a very small risk to some individuals. The media is at least partly to be blamed for it! It was front page news when a gastroenterologist (not infectious disease specialist or epidemiologist), published a small paper on the alleged link between MMR and autism. Some people may be interested to know that co-authors of this particular paper published a statement last year that they no longer believe there is link between MMR and autism.
The government and the media should take the lead in the informed debate of this important public health issue. Proponents and opponents of MMR should be invited to argue their case on live BBC and be covered in front page major newspapers.
Dr L, Cambridge, England
People seem to be under the misapprehension that it individuals who have not been vaccinated against mumps who are being affected. This is simply not true. All my children had all their vaccination as and when they should have. My 17 year old son is just recovering from mumps. Is this vaccination really that successful?
I have recently been refused the MMR no1 and booster, at 37, because the GP 'doesn't get paid for it,' despite my occupation as Practice Nurse in a university, where we currently have an outbreak of mumps and me dealing first line with those affected and therefore being at high risk.
My 18-year-old daughter has just had mumps, despite being fully vaccinated as a child (the MMR plus the booster). I wonder if the Health Protection Agency is monitoring the failure rate of the vaccine. She caught it from her three-year-old brother, who was on the interminable waiting list for the single mumps vaccine. We opted for single vaccines rather than the MMR but had no idea that due to the shortage of mumps vaccine imports he would have to wait two years - in the event we got a letter asking him to book mumps vaccination the day after he came down with the disease. The shortage of the single mumps vaccine is a big contributor to the current mumps epidemic, I'm sure.
Wendy, Isle of Wight, England
The uptake of MMR in this country is embarrassing, we are on a level with many less economically developed countries simply because of media hype. We have the facilities to keep up a 90% vaccination rate so we should be doing so? These outbreaks should not be a surprise, and if current low level of MMR uptake persists we're also risking the possible re-establishment of endemic measles. The provision of public goods cannot be contingent on upon individual consent.
I was born in 1986, and I have had the MMR and a booster, yet I still had mumps last November, along with many other students at my university who had also had the MMR, so it seems even those who have been vaccinated are at risk.
Are all the parents that refused to have their children immunised after unfounded reports going to blame everyone else when their kids go down with mumps? Well, what do you know? I told you so.
NG, Brighton, UK
My 18 year old daughter has just recovered from mumps, she was born in 1986 and had the MMR vaccine in 1990. She is a full time student at 6th form and missed her Art A level last week due to the illness. She returned to college on Monday and has been sitting her Art exam all this week.
Mary Saviile, Middlesbrough, England
Mr Blair now says he will listen to the people, therefore now is the time to offer individual vaccines to parents who don't want to risk possible harm to their children from the MMR jab. After the BSE fiasco I'm afraid politicians do not reassure me about MMR.
Mick, Spalding, Lincolnshire
Being sure that mumps was a notifiable disease I took my case to my doctor, who to my great surprise said, "I think you probably do have mumps, but by the time any test results come back, you will be over it. Just go home and rest" If this is at all common, we can assume the epidemic is much more widespread than the official figures suggest.
I am a GP - we have been told by the immunisation team, Department of Health - there is a shortage of MMR vaccines in the country and that we are unable to give these to teenagers - we are only allowed to immunise children at 13 months and at 5 years at the moment! Obviously Patricia Hewitt needs to found out more about her department
Dr S, Leeds
Perhaps many of those burying their heads over MMR should finally accept the views of the experts instead of the sensationalism of the media. The WHO is one of the most trusted bodies on the planet. It is arrogance to assume they are feeding misinformation on this matter
Simon P, Scarborough, N Yorks
It's rife throughout the student population of Manchester - I have just had a mild dose, thanks to having the first of the MMR vaccines but not the second. I was totally unaware of the need for two doses until it was too late.
Rob S, Manchester
Today is Friday and I went to the doctors on Monday who informed me I have mumps, I'm awaiting the test which comes in the post, surely this test can be done at the doctors, as this adds extra time on getting the results, and as a student I have exams in less than two weeks. Also I had the vaccination as a child so therefore I should not have caught it!
Sarah Logan, London, UK
I had mumps last July when I was 22, I caught it off my 19 year old brother who is a student in York. I can honestly say that it was horrific. The pain caused from the swelling was unbearable, I was unable to move my head up or down nor from side to side and it felt as though my head was going to explode. My face stayed swollen for a good while after the pain had gone. I found it quite depressing because I didn't want to be seen by anyone as the swelling was so disfiguring. I would never put my children at the risk of getting mumps and personally find the number of children who are not getting vaccinated very alarming.
I was given the MMR jab as a child but it didn't stop me catching mumps. Not all immunisations work.
Most of my friends and I had mumps when we were in primary school (late 1980's). To us, it was just another illness that we expected to catch along with chicken pox.
SD, Cheshire, UK
My son is 3 and a half yrs old, and due to family health concerns we opted for him to have separate vaccines. This option is not available on the NHS and so we have had to have them done privately. He has still not had the Mumps vaccine due to import restrictions placed by the government. I would gladly pay my GP to administer the vaccines separately, as I realise that three visits place an extra burden on the surgery. I understand that the option to have separate vaccines on the NHS was available in the past, but this option was taken away.
Hazel S, Kent
The protection for my age group seems well established in this area. I received the vaccine in the final year of sixth form when I was 18, and when I got to university in September, the MMR II vaccine was available for anyone who wasn't protected.
Sam E, Nottingham University, Nottingham
One of our children has had mumps this year and several of their friends have. As far as I am aware all had the MMR jab but, crucially, none had the booster jab that is now administered. The government appear to have been dragging their feet since last year both in recognising this and in offering community wide booster vaccination.
Nick Rowson, Wotton-under-edge, Glos
I go to university at Oxford where we have had many cases of mumps in the last year - lots of my friends got it, I was lucky enough to see the doctor before I came into contact with them. I think to suggest that the epidemic is "convenient" is ridiculous, it happened because certain ages ranges missed out the vaccine, and the falling levels of uptake in young children. People need to realise that vaccination is important and has wider implications for society (rather than it just affecting your child). The media also has to be responsible and not try to sell scare stories - the MMR/autism link was based on a study of 12 people, anyone in science knows that an investigation of that size is not statistically valid.
Hannah C, Oxford
My brother has just caught mumps, and he was born in 1991 and has had the MMR. The doctor has said that there is a particularly virulent strain which you can get even if you have had the jab and is appearing in many major cities in the South.
Poppy Quinn, London
I'm in my mid-twenties and have just recovered from a mild version of the mumps. I did not believe I could be affected due to my age but to say the last two weeks have been unpleasant would be understatement.
Well I am still recovering from the mumps and I did have the injection when I was younger. I am outraged as it has caused so much pain - I have never felt so bad in my life!
Laura Pollard, Folkestone, Kent
There would be more children vaccinated if the mumps vaccine was given as a single dose and at a later age - say just before starting school.
Alan Challoner, Bodelwyddan, Wales
I'm not concerned, unlike the people who did not vaccinate their children, mine where. It will be interesting to see the figures for autism to see whether or not the number of cases has continued with the trend or gone down. My money is on the former.
Jim, Milton Keynes
"The Department of Health has alerted GPs to the risk posed by mumps to young adults and recommends that every effort should be made to ensure that all children are fully immunised." How patronising can they be? I'm sure GPs, with their years of medical training, are far more aware of the risks than non-medically based bureaucrats.
Henry, Durham, UK.
I'm in bed with mumps now. I'm 35 years old.
Louise, Hartlepool, UK
My teenagers were due for the booster last year, but couldn't take the first appointment due to illness, this was re-scheduled, but then cancelled due to a shortage of vaccine. I have just got off the phone to my GP surgery, they advise that there is still no vaccine. How are parents supposed to ensure that their children are protected if there's no vaccine, and no prospect of getting any?
This is an appalling indictment of the media's poorly informed reporting of claims by mavericks. One can only hope that newspapers, and other media outlets, acknowledge how they have contributed to this public health problem.
Anthony, Birmingham, UK
My son (aged 17) had a recent GP appointment for MMR vaccination. However, when he arrived for his appointment he was told that because of a Department of Health directive which had been received that day, informing of a national shortage of the vaccine, he would be contacted with a new appointment when vaccine became available. So far there has been no further contact from the surgery. If there is indeed a shortage of vaccine what is being done to resolve it?
Norman Wilson, Witham, England
Your report suggests that only people who have not been vaccinated are getting Mumps. My youngest (2 years 7 months) is just at the tail end of a case, and he had his MMR at the correct time. It's highly likely that he suffered less than he would have done without, but vaccines aren't a guarantee that you won't get it at all. However, due to his age, he has only had the one dose, so maybe that made a difference.
What a convenient epidemic! Why didn't it happen last year, or the year before, or the year before that, to teenagers born before 1988?Is this another attempt to restore faith in the MMR vaccine before the launch of the quadruple vaccine? And yet again, the many thousands of susceptible children that had their lives ruined by the effects of MMR are completely ignored.
Julie Loch, Cardiff Wales.
Julie: this 'epidemic' started at the end of last year in a number of universities. It seems to have started at the University Games held in Spain, and then spread amongst students, who wouldn't have had the MMR. I like a good conspiracy story/government spin bashing as much as the next punter, but this one seems to be innocent reporting of the truth.
This was predicted. I hope those parents who thought they knew more than the medical profession when it came to immunisation are now eating their ill-informed words. Get your kids immunised!
My husband (37) recently asked for Mumps immunisation when a colleague came down with the illness. He was refused by our GP as he was deemed by the NHS to be not at sufficiently high risk. Our two children have both had their MMR jab, and I had the mumps as a child, but my husband remains at risk unless we go private.
Lisa T, Cambridge