What Is Mumps?

Mumps is a highly contagious infection. It results in fever and swelling of the parotid glands. These are salivary glands located near the front of the ear. Mumps is caused by a virus.

The virus is usually spread through contact with an infected person's saliva. Since the virus is highly contagious, it spreads easily among people in close contact.

Once a common childhood illness, mumps is now rarely seen in the US. This is largely because of the use of the vaccine, which provides lifelong immunity.

Symptoms include:

  • Painful swelling of the parotid glands (under the cheeks and jaw)
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Swelling and pain under the tongue, jaw, or front of the chest
  • In males: painful inflammation of the testicles
  • In females: inflammation of the ovaries, which results in pain or tenderness in the abdomen

In some cases, people have no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, it is generally 2-3 weeks after exposure.

There are no medicines or specific treatments for mumps. Since the illness is caused by a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Mumps should not be treated with aspirin. Treatment is aimed at improving comfort, which may include:

  • Applying hot or cold compresses to swollen areas
  • Gargling with warm saltwater
  • Using non-aspirin pain relievers
  • Using fever-reducing medicines (eg, acetaminophen, ibuprofen)
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Avoiding tart or acidic drinks (eg, orange juice, lemonade)
  • Eating a soft, bland diet

What Is the Mumps Vaccine?

The mumps vaccine is usually given in combination with:

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

All children (with few exceptions) should receive the mumps vaccine two times at:

  • 12-15 months
  • 4-6 years (school entry)—can be given earlier, but the two doses must be separated by at least four weeks

For those 18 years of age or younger who have not been vaccinated, two doses of MMR are given. The doses are separated by four weeks.

Unvaccinated adults, aged 19-49 years, get one dose. Those who work in healthcare or school/university settings and those at high risk of exposure to mumps should get two doses. For adults aged 50 years and older who have not been vaccinated, one dose is given to those considered at high risk.

What Are the Risks Associated With the Mumps Vaccine?

Like any vaccine, the MMR vaccine could cause serious problems. While most people do not have any problems with the MMR vaccine, some have reported:

  • Mild problems: fever, a mild rash, or swelling of the glands in the cheeks or neck
  • Moderate problems: seizure caused by fever, temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, and low platelet count
  • Very rare: serious allergic reactions

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

You should not get the vaccine if you:

  • Had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or a previous dose of MMR vaccine
  • Are moderately or severely ill—Wait until you recover.
  • Pregnant women—Wait until after you have given birth. If you are planning on becoming pregnant, wait until four weeks after getting the vaccine.

Talk to your doctor before getting the vaccine if you have the following conditions:

  • A condition that affects the immune system (eg, HIV/AIDS)
  • Are being treated with drugs that affect the immune system (eg, long-term steroids)
  • Cancer, or are being treated for cancer
  • Low blood platelet count
  • Have had a blood transfusion

What Other Ways Can Mumps Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

Other than getting the vaccine, the best way to prevent mumps is to avoid contact with an infected person.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

During an outbreak, unvaccinated people should get two doses of the MMR vaccine. Since it may take 2-4 weeks to get full immunity, newly vaccinated people are at risk for getting mumps for up to one month. For this reason, people with the illness should be isolated for nine days after the onset of symptoms.