What are Mumps?

Mumps is the common term for the condition parotitis, which is a viral infection affecting the salivary glands. It is very rare in the United States today, although it used to be quite common due to the fact that it is easily spread from person to person. Similar to other highly infectious diseases, mumps can be passed on when an uninfected individual kisses an infected person or touches a contaminated surface. It can also transfer through the air when someone sneezes or coughs.

Patients can return to school or work after about a week if they feel well enough to do so, since at this point they are no longer contagious. The infection typically lasts for a couple of weeks. Complications are rare but can occur if mumps is left untreated. Due to the nature of the infection, it is extremely unusual for anyone to contract it a second time. Being exposed once provides lifelong protection against future exposure.

What are the Symptoms of Mumps?

Though many people will experience symptoms some will experience no symptoms at all.

Symptoms include

  • Painful swollen salivary glands
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle ache
  • Neck pain
  • Chills
  • Pelvic pain
  • General discomfort
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Dry mouth
  • Hearing loss
  • Swollen neck

Mumps Causes

Mumps is caused by the paramyxovirus, which is part of the Rubulavirus family. The virus is airborne, and therefore enters the body via the respiratory system. It then enters the glands that produce saliva – known as the parotid glands – which are located on either side of the face. As the virus reproduces it causes the glands to swell, creating a swollen appearance to the jaw and neck.

Mumps spreads from one person to another via droplets of saliva. If these droplets are breathed in by another person, they will become infected. If you’re in close contact with someone with mumps, you’re likely to breathe in droplets from their sneeze or cough which could make you contract the infection if you are not immune to it.

It’s also possible to contract mumps by touching surfaces which have been contaminated with an infected person’s saliva. For example, if someone coughs into the hand then touches a faucet to wash their hands, the mumps virus could remain on the faucet, and may be contracted by the next person who touches it.

People with mumps are usually infectious a few days before they experience symptoms and continue to be infectious for three to five days.

How are Mumps Treated?

Mumps is easily prevented by receiving an MMR vaccine, which protects the person against rubella, mumps, and measles. When the virus does cause infection, treatment focuses on relieving symptoms.

Treatments include

The use of medications such as Naproxen, Ibuprofen, and acetaminophen to relieve pain, reduce fever, and alleviate inflammation. It is also helpful to rest whenever the patient feels tired and to apply ice packs to the swollen glands. Drinking plenty of water is important to stave off dehydration, and it is better to eat soft nonacidic foods that are easy to chew.

Mumps Prevention

By washing hands regularly and avoiding putting your hands to your mouth or nose unless they’ve been recently washed, you can reduce the risk of contracting many viral infections including mumps. However, there is a vaccination for mumps which means that most people are highly unlikely to contract the disease. The mumps vaccine is included in the MMR vaccine which most people have two doses of during childhood.

Those who have the mumps should stay away from work and school for at least five days after the start of their symptoms to minimize the risk of passing the infection to others who have not had the MMR vaccine. They should also wash their hands frequently, particularly after coughing and sneezing, and should not share cutlery, cups or other items which come into contact with saliva with other people.

Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
March 09, 2018