What Is Mumps?

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Mumps is a viral disease transmitted from person to person by saliva and respiratory droplets. It causes swollen salivary glands, along with symptoms like fever, tender jaw, general malaise, and swollen cheeks.

Vaccination has greatly reduced the chance of getting mumps. Before the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, most people in the United States got the mumps as kids.

This article will discuss the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and possible (but rare) complications of mumps.

Close-up of gloved hand holding measles, mumps, rubella vaccine vial and a syringe

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Mumps Symptoms

It takes time for symptoms to appear after a person contracts the virus. The symptoms usually appear about 16–18 days post-infection but can range anywhere from 12–25 days.

Some people may only have mild symptoms and think they have a cold or may not show any symptoms at all.

The characteristic symptoms of mumps include puffy cheeks and a jaw that is sore or tender and swollen. This is because of the inflamed salivary glands that are below the ears.

Other symptoms can include: 

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Achy muscles

Most people recover within two weeks. There are rare instances in which mumps can cause significant complications, including:

  • Swollen testicles
  • Swollen ovaries or breast tissue
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord)
  • Deafness


Mumps is caused by the mumps virus. Clinically, it is a paramyxovirus, which is part of the Rubulavirus family. It spreads through direct contact with saliva or respiratory droplets through coughing, sneezing, talking, sharing water bottles or drinks, and close contact like sports, dancing, or kissing.

Though vaccination has greatly reduced cases of mumps in the United States, outbreaks still occur, resulting in hundreds to a few thousand cases yearly.

Vaccinated people can still acquire and transmit the virus, as is often seen in group settings such as colleges or correctional facilities, But having a population with high levels of vaccination helps limit outbreaks.


A healthcare provider will perform a thorough medical exam and take your medical history. They will also likely order some lab tests.

To confirm a diagnosis of mumps, lab tests can be done, including:

  • Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing: Often performed on cheek/mouth swabs, but urine or cerebrospinal fluid may be used in certain situations
  • Viral culture
  • IgM serology (looks for antibodies produced early in mumps virus infection)

A negative test result doesn’t necessarily rule out infection; a person’s vaccination status and the timing of the sample can also affect results.


There is no specific treatment for mumps, which will generally resolve on its own. Instead, treatment includes supportive care like over-the-counter (OTC) medications for pain and fever, bed rest, and plenty of fluids.

Cool compresses can help to ease swollen glands. If the jaw is especially tender, softer foods can reduce the need for chewing.

If you have mumps, try to minimize contact with those in your home. Adults should stay home for five days after their glands become inflamed. Children should stay home until their symptoms have resolved.


The prognosis is generally good for those who have the mumps. In very rare cases, complications can include:

  • Swelling of the testicles (can very rarely lead to low fertility)
  • Hearing loss
  • Death from myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or encephalitis

Mumps during pregnancy is not thought to be much different than mumps in anyone else. It has not been found to increase complications during pregnancy or affect fetal development. There is a theoretical risk that early on in pregnancy, it may cause complications, but this remains unproved.

If you are vaccinated, you can still acquire a mumps infection, but your symptoms may be milder, and there is less risk of complications.


The best way to reduce the chances of getting mumps is vaccination. Children should get two doses of the MMR vaccine:

  • First dose at age 12–15 months
  • Second dose at age 4–6 years

College students who don’t show immunity against mumps need the vaccine, and those born during or after 1957 who have never had mumps or aren’t vaccinated should get the vaccine.

Getting two doses of the vaccine can reduce the risk of mumps by 88%. If you have one dose, it can reduce the risk by 78%. If you aren’t sure whether you have had the vaccine, talk to a healthcare provider.

If there is a mumps outbreak, people at increased risk may be advised to get an additional dose of the MMR vaccine.


Mumps is a contagious illness that is caused by a virus. It typically spreads through saliva and respiratory droplets. Mumps causes swollen salivary glands, often resulting in swollen cheeks and a tender jaw.

If you’re vaccinated, it’s still possible to acquire the infection. Those who are vaccinated have a reduced risk of complications and often have less severe symptoms. Though there is no specific treatment, over-the-counter pain and fever relievers and plenty of fluids and rest can help.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Signs & symptoms of mumps.

  3. National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Mumps.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mumps: for healthcare providers.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Transmission of mumps.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mumps vaccination.

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Mumps in adults.