Mumps is a contagious infection, caused by a virus called paramyxovirus. It can be a potentially serious disease for children and young adults.
Mumps is most common in children over the age of two who have not been vaccinated. It is also common in teenagers and young adults, although older people may also contract the disease.
Mumps is spread from person to person via airborne droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, and through direct contact with the infected person and contaminated items.
Once a person has become infected with mumps, it takes two to three weeks for the symptoms to appear. However an infected person can spread the infection even when they do not have any symptoms - the disease is contagious from seven days before and up to nine days after the onset of symptoms.
Symptoms of mumps may include; fever, headache and swollen cheeks or jaw. The swollen cheeks and jaw that often appear in mumps are due to swelling of the parotid glands (salivary glands, which are located just in front of each of the ears).
The swelling can last from three to four days to a week and the person may complain of soreness and pain when the mouth is open.
Some people who have been infected with mumps do not experience any symptoms at all, while up to half only experience non-specific or primarily respiratory symptoms. Symptoms normally decrease after one week and have usually resolved within 10 days.
Mumps can go on to affect many other glands in the body. Inflammation of the testicles (orchitis) in men and post-pubertal boys is a common complication of mumps. The onset is sudden, causing pain and swelling of the scrotum, and a raised temperature. In rare cases, this can lead to sterility.
Inflammation of the ovaries (oophoritis) and breasts (mastitis) can also occur in post-pubertal females. Meningitis can also occur as a result of mumps. Meningitis is an extremely serious disease, caused by inflammation in the brain or spinal cord.
When it occurs following mumps, it is likely to be milder than the normal strain. Mumps related meningitis occurs 3 to 10 days after the onset of mumps. Symptoms include a high temperature, restlessness, headaches, and aversion to bright light, possible vomiting and a stiff neck.
Other complications following mumps can include inflammation of the pancreas and encephalitis (brain inflammation). Very rarely, complications of the disease can be fatal.
There is no cure for mumps, so treatment of the disease is aimed at relieving the symptoms. This includes bed rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
People who have been infected with mumps should not attend school/college/work while they are still infectious (up to 10 days after the onset of symptoms), in order to prevent the disease spreading to others.
There is a highly successful vaccination against mumps, which is given to children in combination with a measles and rubella vaccination (known as the MMR vaccine). The MMR vaccine is administered to babies in early stages of life.
A booster dose of the vaccine may be given at the age of four to five years, when children begin school. A single dose of the vaccine prevents mumps in over 90% of immunized children. When the second booster dose is given, over 99% of immunized children are protected.