Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus that passes from one person to another through saliva, nasal secretions, and close personal contact.
The condition primarily affects the salivary glands, also called the parotid glands. These glands are responsible for producing saliva. There are three sets of salivary glands on each side of your face, located behind and below your ears. The hallmark symptom of mumps is swelling of the salivary glands.
Symptoms of mumps usually appear within two weeks of exposure to the virus. Flu-like symptoms may be the first to appear, including:
A high fever of 103°F (39°C) and swelling of the salivary glands follow over the next few days. The glands may not all swell at once. More commonly, they swell and become painful periodically. You are most likely to pass the mumps virus to another person from the time you come into contact with the virus to when your parotid glands swell.
Most people who contract mumps show symptoms of the virus. However, some people have no or very few symptoms.
Because mumps is a virus, it doesn’t respond to antibiotics or other medications. However, you can treat the symptoms to make yourself more comfortable while you’re sick. These include:
- Rest when you feel weak or tired.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, to bring down your fever.
- Soothe swollen glands by applying ice packs.
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration due to fever.
- Eat a soft diet of soup, yogurt, and other foods that aren’t hard to chew (chewing may be painful when your glands are swollen).
- Avoid acidic foods and beverages that may cause more pain in your salivary glands.
You can usually return to work or school about one week after a doctor diagnoses your mumps, if you feel up to it. By this point, you’re no longer contagious. Mumps usually runs its course in a couple of weeks. Ten days into your illness, you should be feeling better.
Most people who get mumps can’t contract the disease a second time. Having the virus once protects you against becoming infected again.
Complications from mumps are rare, but can be serious if left untreated. Mumps mostly affects the parotid glands. However, it can also cause inflammation in other areas of the body, including the brain and reproductive organs.
Orchitis is inflammation of the testicles that may be due to mumps. You can manage orchitis pain by placing cold packs on the testicles several times per day. Your doctor may recommend prescription-strength painkillers if necessary. In rare cases, orchitis can cause sterility.
Females infected with mumps may experience swelling of the ovaries. The inflammation can be painful but doesn’t harm a woman’s eggs. However, if a woman contracts mumps during pregnancy, she has a higher-than-normal risk of experiencing a miscarriage.
Mumps may lead to meningitis or encephalitis, two potentially fatal conditions if left untreated. Meningitis is swelling of the membranes around your spinal cord and brain. Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. Contact your doctor if you experience seizures, loss of consciousness, or severe headaches while you have mumps.
Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, an organ in the abdominal cavity. Mumps-induced pancreatitis is a temporary condition. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
The mumps virus also leads to permanent hearing loss in about 5 out of every 10,000 cases. The virus damages the cochlea, one of the structures in your inner ear that facilitates hearing.
Vaccination can prevent mumps. Most infants and children receive a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) at the same time. The first MMR shot is generally given between the ages of 12 and 15 months at a routine well-child visit. A second vaccination is necessary for school-aged children between 4 and 6 years old. With two doses, the mumps vaccine is approximately 88 percent effective. The rate of effectiveness of only one dose is about 78 percent.
Adults who were born before 1957 and haven’t yet contracted mumps may wish to be vaccinated. Those who work in a high-risk environment, such as a hospital or school, should always be vaccinated against mumps.
However, people who have compromised immune systems, are allergic to gelatin or neomycin, or are pregnant, shouldn’t receive the MMR vaccine. Consult your family doctor about an immunization schedule for you and your children.