What is mumps?
Mumps is a contagious viral infection that can cause painful swelling of the salivary glands, especially the parotid glands (between the ear and the jaw). Some people with mumps won't have gland swelling. They may feel like they have a bad cold or influenza (flu) instead.
Mumps usually goes away on its own in about 10 days. But in some cases, it can cause complications that affect the brain (meningitis), the testicles (orchitis), the ovaries (oophoritis), or the pancreas (pancreatitis).
The mumps vaccine protects against the illness. This vaccine is part of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella [chickenpox]) vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots. Before the mumps vaccine existed, mumps was a common childhood disease in Canada and the United States.
What causes it?
Mumps is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes near you or shares food or drinks. You can spread the virus from 7 days before to 9 days after symptoms start. You are most likely to spread the virus 1 to 2 days before and 5 days after symptoms start.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
- Swelling and pain in the jaw. One or both cheeks may look swollen.
- Headache, earache, sore throat, and pain when you swallow or open your mouth.
- Tiredness, with aching in the muscles and joints.
- Poor appetite and vomiting.
It usually takes 2 to 3 weeks to get symptoms after you have been exposed to the virus. This is called the incubation period. Some people who are infected with the mumps virus don't have any symptoms.
If you have more serious symptoms, such as a stiff neck or a severe headache, painful testicles, or severe belly pain, call your doctor right away.
How is it diagnosed?
Mumps is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and a history of exposure to the virus. If needed, a blood test can be done to confirm that you have mumps and rule out other illnesses.
The mumps virus can be identified with a viral culture using a sample of urine, saliva, or cerebrospinal fluid. These tests are rarely done.
If you think that you or your child has mumps, be sure to call ahead and explain the symptoms before you go to a doctor's office. It's important to stay away from other people as much as you can so that you don't spread the disease.
How is mumps treated?
In most cases, people recover from mumps with rest and care at home. In complicated cases, a hospital stay may be required.
If you or your child has mumps:
- Take medicine to help relieve fever or headache, if needed. Follow all instructions on the label. If you give medicine to a baby, follow your doctor's advice about what amount to give. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18 because of the risk of Reye syndrome.
- Use ice or a heat pack (whichever feels better) on swollen, painful areas. Put a thin towel under the ice or heat to protect the skin.
- Drink extra fluids to help reduce fever and prevent dehydration.
- Suck on ice chips or flavoured ice pops. Eat soft foods that don't require chewing.
Anyone who has mumps should stay out of school, daycare, work, and public places until 5 days after the salivary glands first start to swell.footnote 1
In general, you don't need to separate the sick person from the rest of the family. By the time mumps is diagnosed, most household members have already been exposed.
Why is it important to prevent mumps?
Getting your child vaccinated is important, because mumps can sometimes cause serious problems. It's also important because mumps is a disease that spreads easily, and outbreaks can easily occur.
Some parents worry that vaccines cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. But many studies have been done, and no link has been found between vaccines and ASD.footnote 2, footnote 3