What is mumps?

Mumps is an infectious viral disease that causes fevers and swollen salivary glands, mostly in children. A mumps vaccine is available and given as part of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) or measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (MMRV) combined childhood vaccinations.

Fevers

An increase in body temperature above the normal temperature range. Fever is often caused by the body's immune reaction to infection.

Vaccinations

The practice of administering a vaccine, a solution containing a microorganism (that causes a specific disease) in a dead or weakened state, or parts of it, for the purpose of inducing immunity in a person to that microorganism.

Vaccine

A preparation containing a microorganism (that causes a specific disease) in a dead or weakened state, or parts of it, for the purpose of inducing immunity in a person to that microorganism.

salivary glands

The glands in the mouth that produce saliva (spit).

Causes

Mumps is caused by the mumps virus.

When an infected person sneezes or coughs, the virus spreads via millions of tiny droplets, each containing many viruses that are spread into the air. If a droplet enters your nose or mouth, you may then be infected with the virus. The droplets can also collect on surfaces and objects; you can catch the virus by touching an infected surface and then touching your nose or mouth area.

Sneezing.The mumps can be transmitted from exposure to infected bodily fluids such as saliva. 

Saliva

The clear watery fluid secreted into the mouth by salivary glands, which aids chewing, swallowing and digestion.

Virus

A microscopic infectious agent that replicates itself only within cells of living hosts; a piece of nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) wrapped in a protein coat.

Risk factors

Mumps is a classic childhood disease and is found worldwide. The most common age for catching mumps is 5-9 years, and about 90% of people reach their teen years already immune to mumps, as a result of previous exposure or vaccination. [1]

People who catch mumps as adults tend to have more serious symptoms and also stand a higher chance of complications.

Vaccination

The practice of administering a vaccine, a solution containing a microorganism (that causes a specific disease) in a dead or weakened state, or parts of it, for the purpose of inducing immunity in a person to that microorganism.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of mumps usually appear about 2-3 weeks after the infection. About a third of all people infected with mumps have no symptoms at all [1] .

The most distinctive sign of mumps is a painful inflammation of the salivary glands. The salivary glands that are most commonly affected are the two parotid glands, located in the sides of the face. The area can become painful, tender and swollen. This sign, also known as parotitis, appears in 60-70% of all mumps infections [1] . One or both glands may be affected.

Parotitis: inflammation of the salivary glands caused by mumps virus.Mumps causes parotitis, an inflammation of the salivary glands. 

Other symptoms of mumps can often include:

  • Mild fever;
  • Headache;
  • Muscle ache;
  • Feeling tired, weak and ill, and;
  • Lack of appetite.

Symptoms of mumps normally last 3-4 days and parotitis can remain for about 7-10 days, then go away naturally unless there are complications. An infected person is able to infect others for a day or two before parotitis appears and for a period of about a week afterwards.

Fever

An increase in body temperature above the normal temperature range. Fever is often caused by the body's immune reaction to infection.

salivary glands

The glands in the mouth that produce saliva (spit).

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

Methods for diagnosis

Your doctor will diagnose mumps by noting the symptoms, especially the enlarged salivary glands. That is usually enough, but blood tests (checking for the presence of the virus and for antibodies against it) can confirm the diagnosis if necessary.

Antibodies

A protein molecule produced by the immune system. Antibodies bind specifically to foreign substances to neutralise them or target them for destruction.

Virus

A microscopic infectious agent that replicates itself only within cells of living hosts; a piece of nucleic acid (DNA or RNA) wrapped in a protein coat.

salivary glands

The glands in the mouth that produce saliva (spit).

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

Types of treatment

There is no specific treatment for mumps. Treating a mumps patient focuses on relieving the symptoms while the patient's immune system handles the disease.

Some measures that can be taken to ease the effect of mumps symptoms are:

  • Rest;
  • Medicines to reduce fever, and;
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Relieving pain of the parotid glands

If the parotid glands swell and become painful, some things you can do to ease the pain and discomfort include:

  • Eating soft foods;
  • Gargling with warm salt water, and;
  • Applying icepacks or heat packs.

Dehydration

The state of insufficient hydration; excessive loss of water; requiring more water in order to function normally.

Fever

An increase in body temperature above the normal temperature range. Fever is often caused by the body's immune reaction to infection.

Immune system

The organs and cells involved in protecting the body against infection.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

Potential complications

Mumps is usually not a serious condition. In rare cases, complications can be annoying and in even rarer cases, serious or even life-threatening. Some of the more common complications of mumps include:

Swollen testicles

An inflammation of a testicle, or orchitis, appears in about 15-30% of teenage and adult males who are infected with mumps. The testicle may enlarge, be painful and tender to the touch. In about 20% of orchitis cases, both testicles are affected [1] .

The discomfort can be relieved somewhat by warm compresses and by wearing supportive underwear. The condition usually goes away naturally after about four days, but can occasionally last for up to six weeks.

Orchitis can sometimes reduce fertility and in rare cases, cause infertility.

Swollen ovaries, swollen breasts

An inflammation of the ovaries, or oophiritis, can appear in about 5% of teenage and adult women infected with mumps [1] . The infected woman can feel ill, have a fever and pain in her pelvis and lower abdomen.

Inflammation of the breast, or mastitis, can also occur in teenage or adult females.

Miscarriage in first trimester

Women who are infected with mumps during the first trimester of pregnancy are in danger of miscarriage. However, a mumps infection during pregnancy has not been found to cause any birth defects in pregnancies that carry to full term.

Viral meningitis and encephalitis

An inflammation of the membranes around the brain (meningitis) or of the brain itself (encephalitis) can occur as a result of a mumps infection, especially in male teenagers and adults. It can cause nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. It usually passes within two weeks. Serious, life-threatening meningitis and encephalitis can occur as a result of mumps, but is uncommon.

Temporary deafness

A small number of people who contract mumps will experience hearing loss, or even become temporarily deaf in one or both ears. This will usually pass, along with the other symptoms of mumps, but permanent hearing loss can occur in some cases.

Pancreatitis

Severe inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis, is a rare complication of mumps [1] .

Abdomen

The part of the body that lies between the chest and the pelvis.

Fever

An increase in body temperature above the normal temperature range. Fever is often caused by the body's immune reaction to infection.

Infertility

Inability to produce offspring.

Ovaries

Female organs located on either side of the uterus. Each ovary produces eggs that travel along the fallopian tubes to the uterus.

Pancreas

An organ located behind the stomach that secretes insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream and digestive enzymes into the intestines.

Pelvis

The bony structure in the lower part of the body trunk that connects the base of the spine to the legs. The pelvis protects important organs, such as the bladder and bowel (and in women, the uterus), and anchors thigh and abdominal muscles.

Testicle

The male reproductive organs that produce sperm and the hormone testosterone.

Trimester

One third of a period of time. Often used to describe the three stages of pregnancy, in which each trimester is about three months long.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

Prognosis

Mumps is usually not a serious health risk and goes away naturally after a few days. Long-term harm is rare.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

Prevention

A mumps vaccine is available and given routinely to children, usually from 12 months of age, as part of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) or measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (MMRV) combined vaccine.

In case of an outbreak of mumps in a community, unvaccinated children may be asked to stay home and not come to day care or school until the situation improves.

A vaccine to prevent the mumps infection is available. 

Outbreak

A sudden and unexpectedly large occurrence of disease in a certain location or population.

Vaccine

A preparation containing a microorganism (that causes a specific disease) in a dead or weakened state, or parts of it, for the purpose of inducing immunity in a person to that microorganism.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.

1. Hviid A. Rubin S. and Mühlemann K. (2008) Mumps. The Lancet 371:932–944.