Dear Dr Nina: 'Am I at risk of developing mumps as an adult? I don't believe I was ever vaccinated'

Q I am an adult in my early 50s and I don’t believe that I was ever vaccinated for anything. I had measles and German measles as a child but have been reading that the anti-vaccination movement has caused these diseases to return – am I protected against contracting these again? I’ve heard there has been an outbreak of mumps – should I get the MMR vaccine now? How do I do that?

Dr Nina replies:  Vaccines help keep you healthy and safe. It is important at any stage of your life to be aware of your vaccine history and know what diseases you are immune to. It is worth visiting your GP and reviewing this. If you are unaware which illnesses or vaccines you have had, your GP can arrange blood tests to check your immunity to illnesses such as chicken pox, measles, mumps and rubella.

Vaccines are safe to give at any age and although many of those we vaccinate against are most dangerous in childhood, disease such as measles, mumps and chicken pox often cause significant complications when contracted as adults.

You specifically asked about mumps and the MMR vaccine. If you had measles and German measles as a child, you are likely immune to these. A simple blood test, drawn in your GP surgery, can confirm your immune status. Many adults find they are, in fact, immune to most childhood conditions, even though they may not remember having them.

If you are not immune, then it is perfectly safe and advised to get the MMR vaccine.

This is a live vaccine, so you must be well at the time of vaccination. Adults vaccinated with live vaccines should not become pregnant or father a child for at least three months after vaccination.

Seeing as vaccination is on your mind, you might like to consider getting the shingles vaccine. Shingles is an infection that causes a painful blistering rash. It affects about three in 1,000 people annually in the UK, with similar numbers expected in Ireland. Shingles primarily affects those over the age of 50, but it can occur at any age.

Once a person has had chicken pox, the virus remains in the body, but is dormant in the nerve tissues. Shingles occurs due to a reactivation of the chicken pox virus. The exact triggers are unclear. The rash itself eases over five to 10 days, but a post- infectious nerve pain may be a prolonged and uncomfortable complication.

Shingles vaccine may reduce the chance of developing this painful rash by over 50pc and, more importantly, reduce the chance of post-infective complications by over 60pc. Even if the vaccine doesn’t provide a 100pc cover, those who have been vaccinated are much more likely to experience a mild infection if it occurs.

Vaccination is available privately through your doctor or pharmacy.

The shingles vaccine is also a live vaccine. Therefore, the rules above apply. It is well tolerated.

With all live vaccines, a mild viral-type illness may occur about two weeks later.

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