Mumps is a viral infection primarily of your parotid glands - one of three pairs of salivary glands. Your parotid glands, which secrete saliva, are located below and in front of your ears. In about two-thirds of mumps cases, both parotid glands are affected. The disease spreads when someone with mumps sneezes, coughs or talks, and you inhale the infected droplets.
Signs and symptoms
About one-third of people infected with the mumps virus have no signs or symptoms. When signs and symptoms do develop, they usually appear about two to three weeks after exposure to the virus and may include:
The primary — and best known — sign of mumps is swollen salivary glands that cause the cheeks to puff out. In fact, the term mumps is an old expression for lumps or bumps within the cheeks.
The cause of mumps is the mumps virus, which spreads easily from person to person through infected saliva. If you're not immune, you can contract mumps by breathing in saliva droplets of an infected person who has just sneezed or coughed. You can also contract mumps from sharing utensils or cups with someone who has mumps.
When to seek medical advice
If you suspect that you or your child has mumps, see your doctor. Mumps has become an uncommon illness, so it's possible that your symptoms are caused by another more common condition. Swollen glands and a fever could be an indication of inflamed tonsils (tonsillitis) or a blocked salivary gland. Other, rarer viruses can infect the parotid glands, causing a mumps-like illness.
Screening and diagnosis
If your doctor suspects that you or your child has mumps, a virus culture or serologic blood test may be needed. This blood test can detect mumps antibodies, which indicate whether you have had a recent or past infection.
Complications of mumps are potentially serious, but rare. These include:
If you or your child develops a complication from mumps, contact your doctor.
Because mumps is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not an effective treatment.
Like most viral illnesses, mumps infection must simply run its course. Fortunately, most children and adults recover from an uncomplicated case of mumps within two weeks' time.
In general, you're considered immune to mumps if you've previously had the infection or if you've been immunized against mumps.
The mumps vaccine is usually given as a combined measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) inoculation, which contains the safest and most effective form of each vaccine. Doctors recommend that children receive the MMR vaccine between 12 and 15 months of age, and again between 3 and 6 years of age — before entering school.
Do you need the MMR vaccine?
You should get a vaccine if you don't fit the criteria listed above and you:
The vaccine is not recommended for:
If you have cancer, a blood disorder or another disease that affects your immune system, talk to your doctor before getting an MMR vaccine.
Side effects of the vaccine
In recent years, some news reports have raised concerns about a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. However, extensive reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conclude that there's no scientifically proven link between the MMR vaccine and autism. In addition, there's no scientific benefit to separating the vaccines. These organizations note that autism is often identified in toddlers between the ages of 18 and 30 months, which happens to be about the time children are given their first MMR vaccine. But this coincidence in timing shouldn't be mistaken for a cause-and-effect relationship.
If you or your child has mumps, time and rest are the best treatments. There's little your doctor can do to speed recovery. But you can take some steps to ease pain and discomfort and keep others from becoming infected:
If your child has mumps, the most important thing you can do as a parent is to watch for complications. In boys, watch especially for high fever, with pain and swelling of the testicles. In girls, abdominal pain may mean involvement of the ovaries or pancreatitis. If your child's fever is very high, contact your doctor for advice.