An alarming increase in preventable mumps infections has prompted a public health warning to all young adults, particularly those attending college or university.

Vancouver Coastal Health has recorded 13 new cases of the mumps over the last month alone, with patients ranging in age from 18 to 33. The virus, which is spread by saliva or mucus, is easily transmitted in shared living spaces such as dorms.

Part of the spread is being blamed on people not receiving their second dose of mumps vaccine, which is required for anyone born in or after 1970. The second dose wasn't added to the routine vaccine schedule in B.C. until 1996.

"We continue to see mumps in increasing numbers, and these outbreaks will continue unless young adults between the ages of 23 and 47 receive two doses of vaccine so they are fully protected," Dr. Althea Hayden, medical health officer, said in a news release.

There have been 80 mumps cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health region since February, compared to the 86 recorded in all of 2016.

Both years represent a sharp increase over the years 2011 through 2015, which saw an average of 32 cases annually.

Officials warn that when infected patients cough or sneeze, they send the virus into the air on droplets, which can expose people who are metres away. The virus can also be spread by sharing food, drinks, cigarettes or kisses with someone who is infected.

Symptoms include fever and swelling of the salivary glands below the tongue, jaw and ears. Rare complications include meningitis, deafness, and sterility.

Anyone who isn't sure whether they are fully protected is advised to get another dose of the vaccine, which is available free from pharmacists, family doctors and most walk-in clinics.

People born before 1957 or those who have already had a mumps infection are considered protected.