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Mumps is a highly contagious infection spread by a paramyxovirus.

The virus can travel in the air through coughs and sneezes, it may be on surfaces people touch, such as door handles or it can be picked-up from cups, cutlery, bowls or plates.

The most common symptom of mumps is swollen salivary glands (parotid) glands in the neck, sometimes referred to as a 'hamster face' appearance. The swelling can be on one or both sides of the neck.

Mumps can be prevented in 95% of cases by having the routine MMR vaccination in childhood or later in life.

Cases of mumps have recently fallen in the UK. There were 713 confirmed cases of mumps in England and Wales in 2015, compared with 2,224 in 2014 and the 3,524 confirmed cases of mumps in 2013.

Below are pictures of swollen neck glands from mumps in a child and in an adult.

child with mumpsman with mumps


Mumps symptoms

Mumps is most contagious usually before symptoms are noticed.

Mumps has an incubation period of 7-18 days, but on average is around 10 days after exposure.

As well as the tell-tale neck swelling, symptoms may include pain and discomfort from the swelling, fever, headache, feeling sick, dry mouth, joint aches and a general malaise.

Ear pain may be felt, especially when chewing. A sour taste in the mouth may be experienced and swallowing may be difficult.

Mumps can result in complications like meningitis and painful swelling of the testicles ( orchitis) or ovaries (oophoritis).

In children and adults with mumps and no complications, most get better and have no further side effects.

However, in rare cases neurological damage, hearing loss, pancreatitis and even death can occur.

Mumps in pregnancy can be dangerous, with an increased risk of miscarriage in the first 12-16 weeks.

Diagnosis of mumps

A doctor will diagnose mumps from the symptoms a patient has, especially the swollen glands.

Blood, urine or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tests may be taken to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for mumps

There is no treatment for mumps itself, but age-appropriate painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help relieve some of the symptoms.

A cold compress such as a moist flannel may help relieve some of the pain from the swollen glands.

Resting and drinking plenty of fluids may be advised, as well as having food such as soup that doesn't need to be chewed.

Always seek medical advice if you suspect mumps. GPs need to know about cases of mumps so that public health authorities can help stop the infection spreading.

Preventing mumps

To help prevent spreading the virus, anyone with mumps should be kept away from school, university or work until five days after symptoms begin.

The same precautions used in cold and flu prevention help stop mumps from spreading: proper hand washing and using a tissue to catch sneezes, then putting it in a bin straight afterwards.

If someone has already had mumps as a child, they usually have lifelong immunity, although second infections have been known.

The number of children having the MMR ( measles, mumps and rubella) jab fell for some time after a false scare about safety of the vaccine - which was later discredited. As a result of this, there are teenagers and young adults who didn’t have the vaccine in childhood who are at risk if they don’t get a catch-up jab.

Vaccination against mumps may also be advised for unvaccinated adults travelling to parts of the world where it is more common.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on April 19, 2016

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