What is Mumps?
Mumps is a viral infection caused by the paramyxovirus. It is fairly uncommon nowadays due to childhood immunisation programmes with the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. Our immune system makes antibodies to the mumps virus and so individuals who have mumps will develop lifelong immunity. Over 85% of cases of mumps occur before adulthood.
How is it spread?
The mumps virus spreads through saliva, especially when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be caught by touching infected objects such as door handles, toys etc.
It can take between 14-25 days to develop symptoms of mumps, although the average incubation period is around 17 days. The affected individual remains infectious 5 days before and up to 4 days after the salivary glands swell.
1 in 3 individuals do not develop any noticeable signs of mumps. However, common symptoms include:
- Pain and swelling of one or both of the parotid glands, which are the main salivary glands of the body and are found just below the ears.
- Dry mouth
- Pain on chewing or swallowing
- High temperature, headache and loss of appetite(can start before the glands swell)
- Joint pain and feeling unwell
- Mild stomach pain
Complications of Mumps
Mumps is normally a mild illness but complications can occur especially in teenagers and adults. These include:
- Pain and swelling of the testes (testicles) – this can affect1 in 4 males (over 12 years of age) who get mumps. The swelling is generally sudden and is painful, warm and tender. Normally one testis is affected although the disease affects both. In rare cases, this may cause infertility.
- Pain and swelling of the ovaries – 1 in 20 females after puberty may experience swelling of the ovaries which can cause lower abdominal pain, vomiting and high temperature. The symptoms normally wear off once the mumps has subsided.
- Inflammation of the brain (viral meningitis) – an uncommon complication which results in stiff neck, vomiting, drowsiness and headache
- Hearing Loss – can occur in affected individuals although this is generally short-lived. Permanent hearing loss due to mumps is very rare
- Inflammation of the pancreas (Pancreatitis) – 1 in 20 people can develop mild pancreatitis which causes abdominal pain, vomiting, high fever, loss of appetite and diarrhoea
- If mumps occurs during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, it increases the risk of miscarriage. However the mumps virus is not believed to cause malformations or defects in the unborn baby
If you suspect any of the above complications, please seek medical advice promptly.
There is no specific treatment for mumps and the main aim is to relieve the symptoms. This can be achieved by:
- Giving paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease fever or pain
- Encouraging plenty fluids ( water is preferable as fruit juice may stimulate the salivary glands to produce more saliva and this can cause more pain)
- Placing a warm flannel placed over the painful swollen to offer comfort
- Eating foods that do not require much chewing
The best way to prevent mumps is by having the MMR vaccine, which is given in 2 doses:
- 1st dose at 12 to13 months of age
- 2nd dose at 3years 4months to 5 years of age
If you have mumps, you can help prevent it spreading by regularly washing your hands with soap and disposing of tissues in the bin when you sneeze or cough.
It is best to avoid school or work for at least 5 days after your symptoms first develop.
You should also avoid contact with individuals with a weakened immune system as they are more vulnerable to catching the infection.