Mumps is a very contagious infection of one or more of the salivary glands and is caused by the mumps virus. These glands are located on either side of the face, below the ears. Mumps is spread from person to person through direct contact with saliva and discharges from the nose and throat of infected persons. Mumps can be spread by coughing, sneezing, and even just talking.
The main symptoms are severe swelling and soreness of the cheeks and jaw. Mumps usually starts with neck or ear pain, loss of appetite, tiredness, headache, and low fever. One third of persons infected with the mumps virus have no symptoms. Symptoms usually start 12 to 25 days after infection with the virus. Mumps can be diagnosed by a blood test or culture.
Severe complications are rare. However, mumps can cause hearing loss, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), and inflammation of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Swelling of the testicles (orchitis) occurs in 15-25% of infected males. Bilateral mumps orchitis experienced prepubertally seems to have no effect, but mumps orchitis experienced postpubertally is associated with severe testicular damage in 10% of patients.
There is no specific medical treatments for mumps. Persons with mumps should drink plenty of fluids, get bed rest, and control the fever, if excessive. Warm moist towels can help relieve the discomfort of the swelling. Children with mumps should be kept home from school or day care until 9 days after the swelling begins, or until the swelling goes away.
Before a vaccine was available, nearly every child got mumps. Now the number is much lower. However, children who are not immunized are still very likely to get the disease. Persons who have not been immunized against mumps are the main risk group. Unvaccinated school-aged children are most at risk. The mumps vaccine is part of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine series given to children beginning at one year of age.