AN outbreak of mumps amongst youngsters could be down to increased socialising over the festive period.
Hundreds of people in their late teens and early twenties are believed to have contracted the painful “kissing disease” in the West Highlands after the busy Christmas party season.
Health officials claim there is no link between the poor uptake of the controversial MMR jab during the mid to late 90s, when there were fears the vaccine could cause autism.
More than 200 people have fallen victim to mumps in the wider Argyll area over the past few weeks, with around 50 of those being reported in Oban.
The virus causes painful swelling of the saliva glands and symptoms tend to be more severe in adults.
It is spread in saliva and through tiny drops of fluid in the air which are scattered when someone sneezes or coughs.
Victims can be infectious for as long as seven days before and up to one week after their glands begin to swell.
In the most severe cases of mumps, the virus can lead to brain swelling and even meningitis.
Louise Glen-Lee, an Oban resident, said: “We’ve never seen anything like it.
“Every day, more and more people are catching it.
“In the town centre you see strange sights like people stopping to check each other’s neck glands and so many are walking around with big, swollen faces.
“It’s affecting people of all ages but particularly the young – there must have been a lot of kissing going on over the last few weeks.
“Many of the youngsters regard having the mumps as a kind of badge of honour – I suppose it proves to their pals that they’ve pulled.”
NHS Highland say they are investigating 50 suspected cases of mumps in the Oban area and a survey of GP surgeries in the Argyll area revealed well over 200 suspected cases.
A spokesman for NHS Highland said the outbreak is not linked to rates of vaccine uptake, but advised youngsters who had not already done to arrange to have the MMR jab.
He said: “We think it could be related to increased socialising over the Christmas period.
“The MMR vaccine gives very good protection against mumps infection and so we would encourage anyone who is still at secondary school or college/university and who have not had the MMR vaccine to contact their GP practice and arrange to be vaccinated.”