Norway sees student mumps outbreak

The number of people infected with the mumps virus is the highest in years and is more than double the previous record.

Norway sees student mumps outbreak
The city of Bergen is seeing a resurgence in mumps infections. Photo: Percita/Flickr

Over 80 people are currently infected with mumps in Norway, well over the previous record set 15 years ago, Science Nordic reported this week. 

According to Margrethe Greve-Isdahl, the chief physician at the Department of Vaccines for the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), the normal annual figures are between eight and 35 people so the current number represents a major outbreak in Norway.

The recent outbreak of mumps reportedly stems from international students in Trondheim who were unsure if they had been vaccinated against the virus, Greve-Isdahl said. The NIPH suspects that the infection may have been spread at a student cultural festival in October, where the infected students from Trondheim came into contact with students from across Norway.

Three infection cases in Oslo and four in Bergen are all connected to the student community and the number infected in Bergen is most likely higher, according to officials. 

The University of Bergen is taking steps to inform students about mumps by urging students to take extra precautions to prevent its spread.

The Norwegian-born students affected by the virus were in the age bracket to have received the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination that was introduced in 1983, and those who contracted the contagious disease report that they were indeed vaccinated.  

Greve-Isdahl explained to Science Nordic that “the mumps component of the MMR vaccine is the weakest one in the vaccine, and its effect can diminish over time, at least in some people.”

NIPH is recommending a second dose of the mumps vaccine primarily for individuals “who are missing one or both vaccine doses,” Greve-Isdahl said.

A recent press release from the municipality of Bergen is encouraging anyone who has been in close contact with a person infected with mumps to get a booster dose of the MMR-vaccine, regardless of their vaccination history.

Although the mumps virus can cause fever, headache, fatigue and swollen glands, Greve-Isdahl stressed that it is not in same dangerous league as the measles or rubella.

“We included mumps in the MMR vaccine because we want to limit the disease for the sake of boys. Boys who become infected after puberty may have complications with inflammation of the testicles, which can impair their ability to have children. These fertility problems may go away over time, so sterility is rarely long-term,” she told Science Nordic.

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Why are more people waiting to be given a GP in Norway?

As many as 116,000 people are waiting to be given a "fastlege", or GP, in Norway. So, why are residents having to wait to be assigned a doctor?

More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork.
More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

A recent quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health has revealed that 116,000 people in Norway are on the waiting list to be given a GP

Furthermore, the number of those without a doctor has grown in recent years, with those in rural and northern parts of the country more likely to be left waiting for a GP. 

The current GP scheme in Norway allows everyone to choose their own doctor, who acts as the patients’ main point of contact with the health service. Your GP is also responsible for your primary medical needs, and you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

READ ALSO: How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Doctors in Norway have warned that a lack of funding and staff is threatening the GP system. 

“The GP scheme is on the verge of collapsing because there are too few doctors,” Bernand Holthe, a GP on the board of the Nordland Medical Association and a member of GP’s association for the area, told public broadcaster NRK

He says that reform in 2012 to the GP system has left doctors with too much work with not enough resources at their disposal. 

“After the collaboration reform in 2012, the GP scheme has been given too many tasks without receiving a corresponding amount of resources,” Holthe said. 

The government has pledged around 450 million in funding for GPs in its state budget for 2022, which Holthe argues isn’t enough to recruit the number of GPs necessary. 

Nils Kristian Klev and Marte Kvittum Tangen who represent the country’s 5,000 or so GPs also said they were disappointed with the level of funding allocated for doctors in the national budget. 

“The Labor Party was clear before the election that they would increase the basic funding in the GP scheme. This is by far the most important measure to ensure stability and recruitment and it is urgent,” the pair told Norwegian newswire NTB.

Patients have been left frustrated, and in a recent survey on healthcare in the country, one reader of The Local expressed their frustration at not having a GP. 

“I moved from Olso to Tromso, and I’m currently without a GP. Helsenorge didn’t think this was an issue and told me to visit a hospital if I needed to see a doctor. How can a municipality have no places for a doctor? Everyone has a right to a local doctor, and I’ve been left with nothing. All I can do is join a waiting list in the hopes a place turns up before I get ill,” Sinead from Tromsø said in the survey. 

Another reader described the fastlege system as “horrible”. 

Key vocabulary

Fastlege– GP 

Legevakt– Emergency room

Sykehus– Hospital 

Helseforsikring– Health insurance

Legekontor- Doctors office