A mumps outbreak has hit students at Preston’s university with an alarming 24 cases reported in just three weeks.
Health chiefs fear the latest outbreak of the disease could spread even further and are urging young people to make sure they are fully immunised.
There have been 24 suspected cases of mumps affecting students at the University of Central Lancashire and seven of these have already been confirmed.
Although none of the affected students have been hospitalised, university and health chiefs are concerned as mumps can spread like wildfire when groups of unvaccinated young people come together.
Dr Ken Lamden, consultant in health protection at the Health Protection Agency for Cumbria and Lancashire, said: “Twenty four cases of mumps in just three weeks is a significant number.
“Usually, in an average month, we would see only one or two mumps cases, if any at all.
“This latest outbreak has emerged since the students have come back to university.
“Mumps is very unpredictable so we don’t know if this outbreak will continue to get worse or not.”
Mumps is an infectious disease which causes the salivary glands in the neck to become swollen and painful, accompanied by a fever, headache, runny eyes and nose.
Before there was a vaccination for mumps, it was the commonest cause of viral meningitis and cause of deafness in one ear.
Mumps is spread by coughs and sneezes and the incubation period is usually 14 to 21 days.
It can also cause swelling in other glands, including the testicles, ovaries and pancreas.
There is a small risk of infertility in males, but the most serious complication of mumps is meningitis.
Health experts are urging teenagers and young adults to protect themselves against mumps with two doses of the MMR vaccine.
Many parents did not get their children immunised with two doses of the MMR vaccine after reports linked the vaccine with autism.
These reports have since been discredited but their legacy is numerous outbreaks of mumps in schools, colleges and universities over the past decade including at UCLan where there were 93 mumps cases between January and May last year.
During the whole of 2008, there were 38 cases in Preston and in 2007, there were 15 mumps cases reported in the city.
Dr Lamden said: “All it needs is one or two students to come to Preston from their hometown which has been hit by an outbreak of mumps and when they are mixed with other students on their course, where they live and when they socialise, infections like mumps can spread very quickly among unvaccinated students.
“It is not just first year students who are affected, but students across all university years.”
Dr Harshanie Ubeysekara from the Cumbria and Lancashire Health Protection Unit, added: “During this outbreak period, students are at risk of developing mumps if they have not been fully immunised against mumps.
“If students have not had two doses of MMR, they should visit their GP or university medical centre for vaccination.
“The vaccination will protect them from mumps and their fellow students as well.”
A spokesman for UCLan said: “To date, we have seven confirmed cases of students who have been diagnosed with mumps - this is from the 24 suspected cases which have been reported.
“All students are recovering well without serious complications.
“The most effective thing people can do to protect themselves is to ensure that they are fully vaccinated.
“For many students, this will have taken place through childhood and school vaccination programmes, but we would urge any concerned student, particularly those under the age of 25 and who have missed out on two doses of the MMR vaccine, to ring their GP as soon as possible or seek advice from the University Medical Centre.”