Mumps is a disease, usually of children, caused by a virus. With mumps, your salivary glands swell. Specifically, these are the parotid glands, and they are located below and in front of each ear.


The virus is spread by direct contact with an infected person's sneeze or cough. Humans are the only known natural hosts. The disease is more severe if you get it as an adult.


With nearly universal immunization in childhood, there are fewer than 1,000 cases of mumps per year. Most of the reported cases are in children aged 5-14 years. The infection is more common during late winter and spring.


Things you should know about mumps:


  • Mumps is a highly contagious viral infection with an incubation period of 14-18 days from exposure to onset of symptoms. The duration of the disease is approximately 10 days.
  • The initial symptoms of mumps infection are nonspecific (low-gradefever, malaise, headache, muscle aches, and loss of appetite). The classic finding of parotid gland tenderness and swelling generally develops the third day of illness. The diagnosis is generally made without the need for laboratory tests.
  • Serious complications of mumps include meningitis, encephalitis, deafness, and orchitis.
  • The MMR vaccine provides 80% effective immunity against mumps following a two-dosage schedule (12-15 months with booster at 4-6 years of age).
  • No specific therapy exists for mumps. Warm or cold packs for the parotid gland tenderness and swelling is helpful. Pain relievers (acetaminophen [Tylenol] and ibuprofen [Advil]) are also helpful.


Early symptoms are uncommon but may include fever, loss of appetite, achiness, and headache. Temperature is moderately high, usually lasting for 3-4 days. 


Swelling of the glands under and in front of the ear usually starts on one side and then progresses to the other side rapidly. Swelling may last from 7-10 days. Eating or drinking acidic or citric foods causes much discomfort. 


Other symptoms may include:


  • testicular pain (in males), 
  • abdominal pain, seizures,
  • stiff neck,
  • difficulty swallowing. 


Orchitis is the most fearedcomplication of mumps. This condition causes severe pain, swelling, and tenderness in a male's testicles. Orchitis is mostly on one side but can involve both testicles.


Mumps virus is a single strand of RNA housed inside a two-layered envelope that provides the virus its characteristic immune signature. Only one type of mumps virus has been demonstrated to exist (in contrast to multiple virus types which may cause the common cold).


Mumps is highly contagious and has a rapid spread among members living in close quarters. The virus most commonly is spread directly from one person to another via respiratory droplets. Less frequently, the respiratory droplets may land on fomites (sheets, pillows, clothing) and then be transmitted via hand-to-mouth contact after touching such items.


The incubation period from exposure to the virus and onset of symptoms is approximately 14-18 days. Viral shedding is short lived and a patient should be isolated from other susceptible individuals for the first five days following the onset of swelling of the salivary (parotid) glands.


The treatment of mumps is mainly to relieve the symptoms.


  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat properly. The diet should be light.
  • Pain relievers may be used for comfort.
  • For most children, the swelling in their glands goes away in a week. Any child with mumps should not return to school or day care for 9 days after the start of parotid swelling.


The treatment of mumps requires over-the-counter pain relievers for swelling and fever. The child should be kept well hydrated, so encourage the child to drink liquids.


What are complications of mumps?


There are four serious complications of mumps: meningitis (infection of the spinal fluid which surrounds the brain and spinal cord), encephalitis (infection of the brain substance), deafness, and orchitis (infection of the testicle/testicles). All three complications may occur without the patient experiencing the classic involvement of the parotid gland.


  1. Meningitis: More than 50% of patients with mumps will have meningitis, which may occur during any period of the disease. Generally patients make a full recovery without permanent side effects.
  2. Encephalitis: Until the 1960s mumps was the primary cause of confirmed viral encephalitis in the United States. Since the successful introduction of a vaccination program, the incidence of mumps encephalitis has fallen to 0.5%. Fortunately, most patients recover completely without permanent side effects.
  3. Deafness: Preceding the mumps vaccination program, permanent nerve damage resulting in deafness was not unusual. While occasionally bilateral, more commonly only one ear was affected.
  4. Orchitis: This complication was the most common side effect (40%) to postpubertal males who contracted mumps. Severe pain (often requiring hospitalization for pain management) was one-sided in 90% of cases. Between 30%-50% of affected testes atrophied (decreased in size), and 13% demonstrated impaired fertility. The "common knowledge" of sterility was actually rare. Previous concerns regarding mumps orchitis and later testicular cancer have not been proven (ovarian involvement occurred in approximately 7% of postpubertal girls)/


Less frequent complications of mumps infection include arthritis, infection of the pancreas, infection of the myocardium (heart muscle), and neurological conditions (for example, facial palsy, Guillain-Barré syndrome, etc.).

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