Mumps is an extremely contagious viral infection of the salivary glands that most commonly affects children. The most obvious symptom is swelling of the salivary glands, giving the patient a “hamster-like” face.
The affected salivary glands are called the parotid glands; sometimes, the mumps virus can also cause inflammation of the testis, ovary, pancreas, or meninges (membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord).
Once someone has had mumps, they usually become immune to future infections.
To reduce the spread of mumps, the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine is often given at an early age to build immunity to the virus. Since the MMR vaccination was brought in, there has been a 99 percent decrease in mumps cases in the United States.
Fast facts on mumps
Here are some key points about mumps. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
Mumps is extremely contagious.
Around 20 percent of people with the mumps virus show no symptoms.
The MMR vaccine is incredibly safe.
There is no antiviral treatment for mumps; only the symptoms can be treated.
Symptoms of mumps
Mumps most commonly affects the salivary glands.
The symptoms of mumps normally appear 2-3 weeks after the patient has been infected. However, almost 20 percent of people with the virus do not suffer any symptoms at all.
Initially, flu-like symptoms will appear, such as:
Loss of appetite and/or nausea
Over the next few days, the classic symptoms of mumps will develop. The main symptom is painful and swollen parotid glands, one of three sets of salivary glands; this causes the person’s cheeks to puff out. The swelling normally does not occur in one go – it happens in waves.
Other associated symptoms can include:
Pain in the sides of the face where it is swollen.
Pain experienced when swallowing.
Fever (up to 103 degrees Fahrenheit).
A dry mouth.
Pain in joints.
Rarely, adults can contract mumps. In these cases, the symptoms are generally the same, but sometimes slightly worse and complications are slightly more likely.
Drinking plenty of fluids may help to relieve the symptoms of mumps.
Because mumps is viral, antibiotics cannot be used to treat it, and at present, there are no anti-viral medications that can treat mumps.
Current treatment can only help relieve the symptoms until the infection has run its course and the body has built up an immunity, much like a cold. In most cases, people recover from mumps within 2 weeks.
Some steps can be taken to help relieve the symptoms of mumps:
Consume plenty of fluids, ideally water – avoid fruit juices as they stimulate the production of saliva, which can be painful.
Place something cold on the swollen area to alleviate the pain.
Eat mushy or liquid food as chewing might be painful.
Get sufficient rest and sleep.
Gargle warm salt water.
Take painkillers. Many painkillers are available to purchase over-the-counter or online, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Causes of mumps
Mumps is due to an infection by the mumps virus. It can be transmitted by respiratory secretions (e.g. saliva) from a person already affected with the condition. When contracting mumps, the virus travels from the respiratory tract to the salivary glands and reproduces, causing the glands to swell.
Examples of how mumps can be spread include:
Sneezing or coughing.
Using the same cutlery and plates as an infected person.
Sharing food and drink with someone who is infected.
An infected person touching their nose or mouth and then passing it onto a surface that someone else may touch.
Individuals infected with the mumps virus are contagious for approximately 15 days (6 days before the symptoms start to show, and up to 9 days after they start). The mumps virus is part of the paramyxovirus family, a common cause of infection, especially in children.