EXPERTS have issued a health warning after a rise in confirmed cases of mumps.

Public health officials from Tyneside to North Yorkshire have seen a steady rise in cases of mumps in recent months.

Now GPs on Teesside have been put on alert after four cases were confirmed since January 1.

Experts are worried because in the whole of 2002 there were only seven confirmed cases.

Dr Ian Holtby, consultant in communicable disease control with County Durham and Teesside Strategic Health Authority, said: "It is a cause for concern. We have had quite a few confirmed cases of mumps, mostly in teenagers. This shows that mumps is circulating" GPs in other parts of the region said they had recently seen cases of mumps or suspected mumps.

The increase in mumps raises concerns about falling rates of immunisation against mumps.

This follows controversy over the safety of the triple mumps, measles and rubella vaccine (MMR) which has been associated with autism.

Experts in the region stress that the triple vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect children against unpleasant and potentially harmful infections.

The outbreak is mostly in teenagers who missed mumps jabs when they were younger.

But with MMR take-up rates in some parts of the region well below the 95 per cent target, doctors fear that many young children may be affected.

In most cases of mumps children will suffer painful facial swelling which will disappear after seven to 10 days.

But in a small minority of cases this can cause temporary or partial deafness and swollen testicles in older boys.

Dr Holtby urged parents of young children to ensure that their child receives the MMR vaccine.

Dr Nicol Black, consultant in communicable disease control with Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside Strategic Health Authority said: "We are seeing more cases of mumps than normal."

Dr Black said the numbers were still "very small" but higher than expected.

"The key message here is that the MMR vaccine is safe and it is the best way to protect children," he added.

Dr John Canning, a GP in Middlesbrough, said he saw a mumps case a few days ago.

Another GP, Dr George Rae, who practices in North Tyneside, said he saw a suspected mumps case last week.