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What is mumps?

Mumps is a severe and highly contagious viral illness that usually occurs in childhood, but can be caught at any age. Mumps infects the parotid glands, one pair of salivary glands immediately in front of the ears. One of the symptoms of mumps is swelling in the throat and jaw.

Mumps is spread by contact with fluids from the mouth, nose, and throat when a person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The virus can also live on surfaces like doorknobs, eating utensils, and soft drink cans. The virus can be transferred to these items when used by a person who has the mumps. The virus is spread when another person uses these items and then rubs their nose or mouth. The disease usually takes 2 to 3 weeks to appear. Cases of mumps in the U.S. have declined dramatically with the introduction of the mumps vaccine.

What are the symptoms of mumps?

Many children have no or very mild symptoms. The following are the most common symptoms of mumps:

  • Discomfort in the salivary glands, especially those in the jaw area, which may become swollen and tender. Some may have trouble talking and have an earache. 

  • Trouble eating and chewing

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Muscle aches

  • Tiredness

  • Loss of appetite

The symptoms of mumps may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always see your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

What are the complications of mumps?

Complications of mumps occur more often in adults than in children, and may include the following:

  • Meningitis or encephalitis. Inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord or inflammation of the brain. Most people recover fully from this.

  • Orchitis. Inflammation of the testicle, causing pain and tenderness of the testicles, rarely leads to infertility problems.

  • Mastitis. Inflammation and tenderness of breast tissue.

  • Oophoritis. Inflammation of the ovary, which may cause abdominal pain and vomiting.

  • Pancreatitis. Inflammation of the pancreas.

  • Deafness

How is mumps diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will review your child's medical history and do a physical exam. Your child's healthcare provider may also take a saliva or urinary culture to confirm the diagnosis.

What is the treatment for mumps?

Treatment is usually limited to pain relievers and plenty of fluids. Sometimes, bed rest is needed the first few days. Antibiotics are not helpful for mumps.

How can mumps be prevented?

Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) is a childhood combination vaccination against mumps, measles, and rubella. MMR provides immunity for most people. People who have had mumps are immune for life.

Usually, the first dose of the MMR vaccine is given when a child is 12 months old, and a second dose is given at 4 to 6 years of age. However, if 28 days have passed since the first dose was given , a second dose may be given before the age of 4.

According to the CDC, children should stay out of school until symptoms have subsided. Both adults and children with mumps symptoms should minimize contact with other people in their homes. Good basic hygiene, such as thorough hand-washing, sneezing or coughing into a tissue or the crook of your elbow, and regularly cleaning frequently touched surfaces, are also important to keep from spreading the disease.

Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Lentnek, Arnold, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2016
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