Mumps: Facts, Symptoms, Preventions & Treatments

Picture of Mumps

Mumps, also known as epidemic parotitis, is a viral disease caused by the mumps virus. Initial signs and symptoms often include fever, muscle pain, headache, and feeling tired. This is then usually followed by painful swelling of one or both parotid glands. Symptoms typically occur 16 to 18 days after exposure and resolve after 7 to 10 days. Symptoms in adults are often more severe than in children. About a third of people have mild or no symptoms. Complications may include infections of the covering of the brain (15%), pancreatitis (4%), permanent deafness, and painful testicular swelling which uncommonly results in infertility. Women may develop ovarian swelling but this does not increase the risk of infertility.

Mumps is highly contagious and spreads rapidly among people living in close quarters. The virus is transmitted by respiratory droplets or direct contact with an infected person. Only humans get and spread the disease. People are infectious to each other from a few days before the start of symptoms to four days after. After an infection a person is typically immune for life. Reinfection is possible but tends to be mild. Diagnosis is usually suspected due to parotid swelling and can be confirmed by isolating the virus on a swab of the parotid duct. Testing for IgM antibodies in the blood is simple and may be useful; however, can be falsely negative in those who have been immunized.

Mumps facts

  • 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-grade fever, 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.

How Mumps is spread

Mumps is spread in the same way as colds and flu through infected droplets of saliva that can be inhaled or picked up from surfaces and transferred into the mouth or nose.

A person is most contagious a few days before the symptoms develop and for a few days afterwards.

During this time, it’s important to prevent the infection spreading to others, particularly teenagers and young adults who haven’t been vaccinated.

If you have mumps, you can help prevent it spreading by:

  • regularly washing your hands with soap
  • using and disposing of tissues when you sneeze
  • avoiding school or work for at least five days after your symptoms first develop

Picture of Mumps

Symptoms of Mumps

Some people infected with the mumps virus have either no signs or symptoms or very mild ones. When signs and symptoms do develop, they usually appear about two to three weeks after exposure to the virus and may include:

  • Swollen, painful salivary glands on one or both sides of your face (parotitis)
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain while chewing or swallowing

The primary and best known sign of mumps is swollen salivary glands that cause the cheeks to puff out. In fact, the term “mumps” is an old expression for lumps or bumps within the cheeks.

How Mumps can be prevented?

Mumps can be prevented by vaccination. The vaccine is given as part of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunization, which is usually given to children at 12–15 months of age. A second dose of MMR is generally given at 4-6 years of age. As is the case with all immunization schedules, there are important exceptions and special circumstances. For example, a child who will be traveling outside the United States should get the vaccine as early as 6 months of age.

If they haven’t already received them, students who are attending colleges and other post-high school institutions should be sure they have had two doses of the MMR vaccine.

During a measles outbreak, your doctor may recommend additional shots of the vaccine if your child is 1-4 years old. Your doctor will have the most current information.

How is Mumps diagnosed?

The diagnosis of mumps is primarily one of clinical acumen. Laboratory studies are generally done to support the clinical impression. The purpose of these laboratory studies is to exclude other viruses that may give a similar clinical presentation as well as to exclude very infrequent similarly presenting parotid gland enlargement (for examples, salivary gland cancer, Sjögren’s syndrome, IgG-4 related disease, sarcoidosis, side effects of thiazide diuretics, etc.).

Treatment for Mumps

There’s currently no cure for mumps, but the infection should pass within one or two weeks.

Treatment is used to relieve symptoms and includes:

  • get plenty of bed rest until your symptoms have passed
  • take over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, to relieve any pain (children aged 16 or under should not be given aspirin)
  • drink plenty of fluids, but avoid acidic drinks such as fruit juice as these can irritate your parotid glands; water is usually the best fluid to drink
  • apply a warm or cool compress to your swollen glands to help reduce any pain
  • eat foods that don’t require a lot of chewing, such as soup, mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs

If your symptoms don’t improve after seven days, or suddenly worsen, contact your GP for advice.

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