By Rebecca Widdowson, First Year, Sociology
As cases of the mumps seem to be on the rise, Epigram explores how this has been affecting students at the University of Bristol and how to recognise the symptoms.
Recent statistics produced by Public Health England have shown the number of mumps cases are currently the highest they’ve been for a decade. Perhaps more worryingly, it seems these outbreaks have proved to be especially common in universities and colleges.
In 2018, the highest number of cases was 153 people from the 20–24 age category. In this example, the majority of those infected were individuals who hadn’t been vaccinated, which explained why the number of mumps cases was so high.
the number of mumps cases are currently the highest they’ve been for a decade
Mumps is a viral infection which is transmitted, much like the flu, through the transfer of infected saliva that you breathe in from other people who are infected. So, say it with me people: ‘Coughs and sneezes spread diseases.’
The obvious question following this is: how can we prevent the spread of mumps?
Well again, similar to the common cold we simply have to observe good (if not, great) hygiene practises. Wash your hands regularly (with soap) and throw away any used tissues. Please don’t collect hordes of them in your bags or pockets, easy as they are to forget about!
Hygiene advice you’ve probably heard a million times from your mum aside, it’s also important to know what to do if you suspect you have the mumps.
In 2018, the highest number of cases was 153 people from the 20–24 age category
The most common symptom is what’s called the ‘hamster face’, where the sides of your face and the area under your ears swell up. And before your cheeks suddenly become quite chunky it is typical to have jaw pain. Talking to other students, it seems common to experience a high temperature too, unfortunately accompanied by headaches, which herald the imminent arrival of the mumps.
mumps outbreak at Bristol uni... reckon I’m immune idk pic.twitter.com/ncunM5BnYz— eleanor (@eleanor__clarke) November 27, 2019
One UoB Masters student, Verity, who has suffered from mumps in the last 12 months seems familiar with the ‘hamster face’, telling Epigram, ‘it started off with just having a bit of a sore patch just below my ears, I actually thought it might be wisdom teeth related at first, but then it spread down my face and my whole face swelled up and I literally looked like a hamster!’
She also explained ‘I felt pretty down the whole time I had it because my face was so painful that I couldn’t eat, laugh, smile, talk, literally nothing. I basically lived off mashed potato, soup and ice cream for 10 days because I couldn’t chew.’
However, there is no need to panic. Providing you’ve been given the MMR vaccine (and most people are vaccinated when they’re really young, you may well not remember it) you’re less likely to get the mumps. But like all vaccines, there’s still a small chance – 5% in this case – that you could still get infected.
it spread down my face and my whole face swelled up and I literally looked like a hamster! Verity Lloyd
In fact, you might be reading this and thinking, that you recognise or have suffered from these symptoms, maybe even asking yourself ‘what on Earth should I do?!’
First thing’s first; contact your GP. Mumps isn’t a majorly life-threatening disease, but it has similar symptoms to more serious infections like tonsillitis. So, it’s important to get an expert opinion. This will involve your GP asking you to open you mouth so they can have a peek at your tonsils and then getting a good feel of your face.
Following a bit of poking and prodding, your GP will also let your local Health Protection Team (HPT) know you might have the mumps. The HPT then sends you a little saliva testing kit so you can provide them with a sample to confirm if you have the mumps or not.
The most important thing to note is that people with the mumps are at their most contagious a few days before any symptoms develop and then for a few more days after that. This seemingly makes for identifying those who are infectious very difficult, seeing how you can’t immediately see it, but the best thing you can do is just keep calm, carry on, and offer support to anyone that thinks they might be infected.
Mumps itself is not actually curable, but there are things you can do to relieve any pain you’re experiencing from the symptoms until they go away. Most notably, the students experiencing jaw pain recommend taking painkillers, like paracetamol, and applying a cool compress to swollen areas. It’s also advised that you should isolate yourself for the days you’re most contagious to prevent the spread of mumps, during which time you should try and get a lot of bed rest and drink plenty of water.
Finally, you’ll be glad to hear that you normally develop life-long immunity to the mumps once you’ve contracted them, so you’ll never have them again. So, there seems to be something of a silver lining after all.
Featured (from left to right): Lucy Daykin, Christian Leith and Anna Milne
Have you suffered from the mumps during your time at University? What were your symptoms?