VACCINATED VULNERABLE? The effectiveness of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is being questioned.
VACCINATED VULNERABLE? The effectiveness of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is being questioned. Thinkstock

Country faces largest mumps outbreak in 20 years

AN ENTIRE generation of young adults could be at risk of catching the viral disease mumps despite being vaccinated decades ago, as waning immunity contributes to the largest outbreak in 20 years.

Health professionals are concerned the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine may no longer be working effectively, leaving a large section of the population unprotected from the mumps virus.

Last year the biggest outbreak of mumps was recorded, with 804 cases, according to the federal Department of Health's data.

There have been 89 cases already this year.

But what is worrying health professionals is that 27% of all mumps cases in Australia over the past five years have been suffered by adults who have already received two doses of the vaccination, one at 12 months of age and another between the ages of four and six.

"It's a recognised issue,” Australian Medical Association Queensland spokesman and specialist in infectious diseases Dr Paul Bartley said.

"It's difficult to work out what proportion of patients have waning immunity because they tend to only come to medical attention after they get sick.

"It's been pored over by public health professionals ... but nothing has been confirmed about a problem with the vaccine.”

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has acknowledged that recent outbreaks of mumps have "predominantly involved young adults, nearly all of whom had a history of vaccination during childhood, most with the recommended two-dose schedule.

"This evidence of waning immunity has led to suggestions that vaccination with a third dose during adolescence might be an effective measure to prevent outbreaks.”

Dr Bartley said a third vaccination to protect young adults with waning immunity was "under active consideration”.

The number of children not being vaccinated is becoming a cause for concern.

The Travel Doctor Deborah Mills believes young adults may be the first generation not exposed to the mumps virus, therefore failing to build up a natural immunity, combined with a reduction in the vaccine's antibodies over time.

MUMPS: Signs, symptoms, treatment and transmission

Mumps is an infection of the salivary glands caused by the mumps virus. The most common gland affected is the parotid gland which causes swelling at the angle of the jaw in front of the ear.


One third of people with mumps have no symptoms. Those who do, face symptoms which can include swelling of one or more of the salivary glands, high fever, loss of appetite, tiredness and headache. Salivary gland swelling, if present, progresses to a maximum size over a period of two to three days. The salivary glands return to normal size within a week. Occasionally serious complications can occur, including inflammation of the brain, spinal cord and pancreas, hearing loss and sterility.


Usually no treatment for mumps is required, however paracetamol will reduce the fever and pain.


Mumps is spread by direct contact with either saliva or droplets from the sneeze or cough of an infected person. The most infectious period for mumps is usually about two days before until four days after the onset of the illness, but someone with the disease can be contagious for up to seven days before until nine days after the swelling of the salivary gland.

Source: Queensland Health