Mumps is a viral infection that primarily affects the parotid glands, which are one of the saliva producing organs located near the ears. It is caused by the highly contagious mumps virus. The virus spreads through contact with infected respiratory secretions or breathing in respiratory droplets (tiny drops of saliva or mucus released during talking, breathing, coughing, etc.) from an infected person.1
The mumps symptoms typically appear about two to three weeks after exposure to the mumps virus and include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite, as well as swelling and pain in the parotid glands, which can cause the cheeks to appear puffy.
There is no specific medication for mumps and the treatment typically involves managing symptoms with rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers.4 Luckily, mumps can be prevented very effectively through vaccination.
Although most individuals recover completely within a couple of weeks from catching mumps, in some cases it can lead to serious complications.1 That is why it is important to know who is at risk, what the symptoms are and how to prevent the infection.
Causes of mumps
Mumps is caused by the mumps virus, which is a member of the paramyxovirus family. This virus is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets and contact with infected saliva or respiratory secretions. When a person infected with the mumps virus coughs, sneezes, or talks, they release small drops of liquid into the air (called respiratory droplets) that can be inhaled by others. The virus can also spread through direct contact with infected saliva, such as sharing utensils, drinking cups, or other personal items.2
Once the mumps virus enters the body, it travels through the bloodstream and infects various organs, including the parotid glands, which are located near the ears and are responsible for producing saliva. The virus then begins to replicate within the glands, causing them to become swollen and painful. Mumps virus can also infect other organs, such as the heart, the kidney, or the reproductive organs causing inflammation and potential complications.1
Mumps is highly contagious, and people who have not been vaccinated against the virus are at a higher risk of infection. It is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 9, but it can affect people of all ages.3 People who are in close contact with others, such as those in schools, daycare centres or other group settings, are also at an increased risk.1
Signs and symptoms of mumps
Mumps can cause a range of signs and symptoms, which typically appear about two to three weeks after exposure to the virus. Some people infected with the virus may not experience any symptoms at all, while others may develop mild to severe symptoms.
The most common symptoms of mumps include:
- Swollen and painful parotid glands
- Pain while talking, chewing or swallowing
- Muscle aches
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Loss of appetite
Some people with mumps may experience other symptoms, including earache, sore throat, cough, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Complications of mumps are rare but can be serious. These include inflammation of several organs such as the brain (encephalitis), the meninges (meningitis), which form the protective layer covering the brain, or the testicles (orchitis). In rare cases mumps infection can also lead to hearing loss
Management and treatment for mumps
There is no specific medication to treat mumps, and most people will recover on their own within a few weeks. There are some management strategies that can help alleviate symptoms and prevent complications.
- Rest: It is important to get plenty of rest to allow the body to fight the virus and recover
- Fluids: Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to prevent dehydration and promote recovery.
- Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can help relieve pain, fever, and inflammation associated with mumps
- Warm or cold compresses: Applying warm or cold compresses to the swollen salivary glands can help alleviate pain and reduce swelling
- Soft foods: Eat soft, easy-to-swallow foods to minimise pain while chewing and swallowing
- Avoid acidic or salty foods: Avoid acidic or salty foods and drinks, as they can increase salivary gland pain and irritation
- Isolation: People with mumps should avoid close contact with others, especially infants, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, to prevent the spread of the virus
In addition to these management strategies, vaccination is the most effective way to prevent mumps. The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, is recommended for all children and adults who have not been vaccinated or have not had mumps in the past.
How is mumps diagnosed?
Can mumps be prevented?
Yes, mumps can be prevented through vaccination. The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, is recommended for all children and adults who have not been vaccinated or have not had mumps in the past.
Who is at risk of mumps?
Anyone who is not vaccinated or has not had mumps in the past is at risk of getting infected with the virus. People who are in close contact with someone with mumps, such as family members or schoolmates, are also at higher risk of contracting the virus.
Is mumps contagious?
Yes, mumps is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets, or contact with infected saliva or respiratory secretions. People with mumps can spread the virus for up to seven days before and eight days after the onset of symptoms.1
What complications can mumps cause?
Mumps can lead to rare but serious complications. These can include inflammation of several organs such as the brain (encephalitis), the meninges (meningitis), which form the protective layer covering the brain, or the testicles (orchitis). In rare cases mumps infection can also lead to hearing loss.
How long does mumps last?
Mumps typically lasts for about two weeks, but the duration of symptoms can vary from person to person. Most people recover from mumps with no long-term complications.
How common is mumps?
Mumps is not as common as it once was due to widespread national immunisation programmes, but outbreaks can still occur, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.1
When should I see a doctor?
If you or someone you know experiences symptoms of mumps, especially after exposure to someone with mumps, it is important to seek medical attention so that correct diagnosis can be made.
Mumps is a contagious viral infection that affects the parotid glands, a type of salivary glands located near the ears. It causes symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and swelling of the glands. It can be prevented through MMR vaccination and is typically managed through rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Complications such as inflammation of the brain and hearing loss can occur in severe cases. Anyone who has not been vaccinated or has not had mumps in the past is at risk of contracting the virus. Seeking medical attention is important for diagnosis, treatment, and to prevent the spread of the mumps virus within your community.
- Su S-B, Chang H-L, Chen K-T. Current status of mumps virus infection: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, and vaccine. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [Internet] 2020 [cited 14 July 2023];17(5):1686. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17051686
- Rubin SA, Kennedy RB. Paramyxoviruses: Mumps. In: Kaslow RA, Stanberry LR, Powers AM, editors. Viral Infections of Humans [Internet]. New York, NY: Springer; 1993 [cited 14 July 2023]. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4939-9544-8_24-1
- Di Pietrantonj C, Rivetti A, Marchione P, Debalini MG, Demicheli V. Vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews [Internet] 2021 [cited 14 July 2023]; 11CD004407. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD004407.pub5