An Overview of Mumps

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Mumps is a viral infection that typically affects the salivary glands, producing painful swollen cheeks and fever. It is easily spread but is preventable by vaccine. There is no treatment available other than for symptom relief, with recovery usually seen in two weeks. Mumps is of more concern when you are infected after puberty, as complications can include hearing loss, swollen testicles, and meningitis. Learn how you can decrease your risk of mumps and ways to treat your child or yourself.

Symptoms

Some people infected with the mumps virus will have no noticeable symptoms at all. If there are symptoms, they can vary from mild to severe. These symptoms usually appear about two days after infection and can last as long as two weeks. Typically, the initial symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • A headache
  • Swollen, painful salivary glands under the ears or jaw (in about 30 percent to 40 percent of cases)
  • Ear pain
  • Facial pain

 Less common but more severe symptoms and complications can include:

  • Mild inflammation of the covering of the brain or spinal cord (meningitis) which causes moderate to severe headaches. In severe cases, brain inflammation (encephalitis) can occur.
  • Swollen and painful testicles (orchitis). This usually resolves without complication in children, but in males infected past the age of puberty, it can result in a decreased sperm count and, very rarely, in infertility.
  • The gradual hearing loss that is usually temporary but may be permanent
  • Rare involvement of other organs such as the heart, pancreas, and ovaries
  • Increased risk of miscarriage if infected in the first trimester of pregnancy
  • In extremely rare cases, death can occur.

Causes

The virus that causes mumps is similar to the flu virus and is spread from person to person through airborne droplets. Mumps is transmitted by coming in direct contact with saliva or discharges from the nose or mouth of an infected person. The primary routes of infection include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Kissing
  • Sharing glasses or utensils
  • Talking in close proximity
  • Coming in contact with contaminated surfaces 

Vaccination with the measles, mumps, rubella, (MMR) vaccine, MMRV vaccine (which also include varicella), or a standalone (monovalent) mumps vaccine can prevent infection. Vaccination is recommended for infants age 12 to 15 months, with a second dose given between the ages of 4 to 6. Any adult born after 1957 should get MMR shots if they have not previously done so. It is especially recommended for healthcare workers and people who will be traveling internationally.

Once you have had mumps, you should develop immunity and shouldn't catch it again. Rarely, the immunity due to vaccination or having had mumps doesn't develop or wanes due to a depressed immune system.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will usually make the diagnosis of mumps based on your symptoms. Confirmatory tests may be done, including a buccal swab polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test of saliva and a blood test for antibodies. Imaging tests might be done if there are suspected complications of mumps, such as testicular swelling in adults.

Treatment

The treatment for mumps is to reduce the symptoms as the virus runs its course in 10 to 12 days. There is no specific antiviral treatment and antibiotics will have no effect. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to reduce the fever and relieve pain. Cold and warm compresses can be used for the swollen glands.

You should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and switch to soft foods that don't need chewing. Avoid foods that provoke salivation, such as acidic foods and citrus. Gargling with warm salt water can soothe the throat. If you have swollen testicles you can wear an athletic supporter and use ice packs to reduce pain.

A Word From Verywell

If you or your child gets mumps, there is not much you can do other than relieve the symptoms. While mumps was once a childhood disease, it is now seen more rarely in local outbreaks among unvaccinated children and adults. You are more at risk of the serious complications once you are past the age of puberty, underscoring the value of vaccination.

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