Mumps cases in Limerick have increased by almost 600% in the past year, linked to a fall in uptake of the MMR jab in those due for vaccination from 1998 onwards.
In 2019, Limerick has had more than twice the number of notified cases than the three previous years combined.
As mumps cases re-emerge in Ireland, UL Immunologist Dr Elizabeth Ryan claimed people are not thinking about the threat of infectious diseases when choosing not to vaccinate their children.
Dr Ryan warned that we might be setting ourselves up for “a nasty future” if children are not vaccinated.
“Vaccination isn’t all about a personal choice," she said. "It’s about protecting the population.”
The Limerick Voice newspaper revealed the number of mumps cases the Health Service Executive has been notified of so far this year stands at 105, in comparison to 18 in total for 2018 – an almost 600% increase.
Neighbouring areas Clare and North Tipperary have also seen an increase in cases, with Clare seeing 44 cases (two in 2018) and North Tipperary 28 (seven in 2018).
The mumps outbreak in Limerick is part of a wider national outbreak this year with national statistics gathered by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) showing the majority of cases occurring in the 15 - 24 age group.
The Mid West there has been a recent upsurge of mumps cases among teenagers and young adults, the HSE confirmed.
The mumps outbreak in teenagers and young adults in the present day is believed to be linked to the fall in uptake of the MMR jab in those due for vaccination from 1998 onwards, according to a HSE spokesperson.
Mumps is a viral infection with symptoms including high temperature, headache and swelling of the cheek and jaw.
Individuals are infectious for about four to five days before the cheek swelling appears. Individuals remain infectious for five days after symptoms develop.
Symptoms can develop from 12 to 35 days after exposure and a number of complications can occur with mumps including meningitis, and more rarely, encephalitis and deafness.
In a statement, the HSE said the best way to prevent mumps is to have two doses of the MMR vaccine, and anyone who has not had two doses should go to their doctor for either a full course or a second dose, depending on their vaccination history.
Statistics show mumps activity increased this year in early September, coinciding with the reopening of schools and colleges.
Students at the University of Limerick (UL) have received multiple emails from the Student Health Centre this semester advising them of the “increased mumps activity” on campus.
One of the emails read: “Unfortunately, it appears the MMR vaccine no longer provides the population with herd immunity. There are already signs of increased mumps activity on campuses in Ireland this academic year, with a number of cases emerging here in UL.” Limerick has never achieved herd immunity to measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) according to a HSE representative.
“Herd immunity within a population means that there are not enough susceptible individuals to pass the infection around,” Dr Ryan said, adding that even larger numbers can be expected to contract these infections in the future if at least 95% of the population is not vaccinated.
Uptake of the MMR vaccine at 24 months in Limerick has consistently remained in the low 90 percentile range in the last seven years, occasionally dipping to 88% or 89%.
The second dose of MMR which is administered to Junior Infants is even lower. In four of the last seven years on record, Limerick had a 90% or lower uptake of the second dose of the MMR vaccine.
As a mother herself, Dr Ryan said she understands how “confusing and scary” it can be for parents when they believe a vaccine may cause damage.
If you have a healthy baby who’s so innocent and new and you’re going to give them something that might cause side effects… that’s genuinely scary.
However, Dr Ryan assured people that risks associated with vaccines are “minuscule” compared to what the re-emergence of these preventable infections would do.
“No vaccine is absolutely 100% safe. But, the risks with the vaccine are so much less than the risks of the infection,” she continued.
“But it’s a risk I would be willing to take. I’ve immunised my daughter. She’s not old enough yet to have gotten the HPV vaccine, but when she is, she will get it.
“We have the resources and the tools to eliminate these from the planet. It’s horrible to think we could be going backwards,” she finished.
Vaccine hesitancy has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the ten leading threats to global health in 2019.