Mumps is an infection caused by a type of virus called a paramyxovirus. It is very contagious and spread in saliva, the same way as a cold or flu. This means it can be caught from an infected person coughing, sneezing, etc. It can also be caught from touching infected objects - for example, door handles. It is very unusual for children under one year to have mumps.
What are the usual symptoms of mumps?
Swelling and pain of one or both parotid glands are the usual main symptoms. The parotid glands are the main salivary glands. They are just below the ears and you cannot normally see or feel them. The salivary glands make saliva which drains into the mouth.
- The mouth may feel dry.
- Chewing and swallowing may be sore.
- Fever, headache, feeling tired and being off food may develop for a few days. These symptoms may occur before you develop swelling of your parotid gland.
- Mild abdominal (tummy) pain may occur.
The swelling of the parotid glands usually lasts for 4-8 days. Mumps is normally a mild illness, but complications sometimes occur. This is why immunisation is important.
What are the possible complications of mumps?
The outlook for young children with mumps is very good. Teenagers and adults with mumps are more likely to develop complications, which may include one (or more), of the following:
- The testes (testicles) are sometimes affected. One testis may become inflamed, swollen, and painful for about a week. Occasionally, both testes are affected. In very rare cases this may cause infertility.
- Brain inflammation (encephalitis or meningitis) is an uncommon complication. It typically causes drowsiness, headache, stiff neck, wanting to keep out of the light and vomiting. Although alarming, meningitis caused by the mumps virus usually clears without any treatment after a few days, without any long-term problems.
- Hearing loss can sometimes occur in people with mumps. This is usually only transient and usually improves with time. Very rarely, mumps can cause permanent deafness.
- Inflammation of the pancreas, heart, and other organs are rare complications.
- If you develop mumps in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, it may increase the risk of miscarriage. (However, the mumps virus is not thought to cause malformations or defects in an unborn baby.)
How is mumps diagnosed?
Mumps is most commonly diagnosed by your symptoms and the type of glands that are enlarged in your body.
What is the treatment for mumps?
There is no medicine that kills the mumps virus. For most people, mumps improves over a week with no long-term problems. Treatment aims to ease symptoms:
- You do not usually need any treatment.
- Paracetamol or ibuprofen can ease fever and pain.
- Give children lots to drink, particularly if they have a fever..
- A warm cloth held against a painful parotid gland can be soothing.
When to seek medical help?
Most children are back to normal within 7-10 days. Seek medical help if you suspect that a complication is developing (described above).
Should people with mumps keep away from others?
Yes. Mumps is very infectious. It takes 14-25 days to develop symptoms after being infected. Affected people are infectious from about six days before, until about five days after, a parotid gland begins to swell. Children immunized against mumps are unlikely to catch mumps. However, immunization is not 100% effective. So, people with mumps should stay off and avoid other people as much as possible. This is as soon as mumps is suspected and for five days from the onset of parotid gland swelling.
An effective vaccine to prevent mumps is available. It is part of the MMR vaccine. This is routinely offered to all children aged 12-13 months. A second dose is offered as part of the routine preschool booster programme at between 3 years and four months to 5 years of age.
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