The Madrid region is in the midst of a serious outbreak of mumps. More than 1,300 people, most of them youngsters, have been infected with the virus since the year began - that's 3.43 times the number of cases seen in the same period in 2012.
The incidence of the virus, which affects the salivary glands, ears and throat, has tripled between January 1 and June 9 of this year, according to a report from the Madrid regional health department. During this period 1,292 cases have been detected, not counting those of the last 20 days. It would appear that the effectiveness rate of the vaccine used between 1993 and 1999 on most of the victims of the current cases - the Rubini strain - was only 12 percent.
In the first six months of this year, the Madrid health service recorded 26 outbreaks of parotitis, the technical name for mumps. Most have appeared in schools (16 outbreaks, 105 cases) and companies (four outbreaks, 10 cases). The virus is most likely to affect young men aged between 13 and 22 years of age (56 percent).
But why have these cases tripled? The Madrid region's primary care director, Antonio Alemany, notes that these spikes of contagion "happen every three or four years," adding that this is a "minor" disease, and that the job of following up on the cases is one for family doctors.
"Nowadays, vaccine coverage is very good, but from 1993 to 1999 the effectiveness was 12 percent," explains José García Sicilia, president of the Pediatric Association of Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha.
José Luis Cañada Merino, coordinator of the Spanish Primary Medicine Society's Infectious Diseases Working Group, adds: "One of the reasons for this incidence may be that the effect of the triple-virus vaccine has diminished, because there is a certain resistance to it." In fact, in April there were spikes of up to 40 cases per week. For example, in the last seven days, the region's Epidemiological Service registered nine cases at a school in Aravaca and three at another in Villarejo de Salvanés.
The Health Ministry says it is carrying out an investigation at the schools affected. Normal procedure includes adopting a set of preventive measures, informing families, identifying persons who have been in contact with the sufferer, checking the vaccination schedule, and, if necessary, recommending an anti-viral injection.
The regional health department recommends a check-up for anyone who was administered a triple-virus vaccination - which protects against mumps, measles and rubella - and was born between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 1998, and for those born between January 1, 1985 and December 31, 1988.
Meanwhile, Madrid's regional health department has officially withdrawn its promise to patients that they will be given a date for surgery within a month. The former regional premier, Esperanza Aguirre, went as far to promise that she would resign should the health system she oversaw not be able to keep to the time schedule. But Aguirre has since left the role, and the regional authorities have been forced to admit that there are currently more than 1,100 patients who have not been given a timely date for surgery.