Mumps fact sheet

What is mumps?

Mumps is an acute viral disease. Typically there is swelling and tenderness of the two salivary glands in the cheeks at the angle of the jaw.

Who gets mumps?
Mumps usually occurs in children, although older people may also contract the disease, The greatest risk of infection occurs among older children. Mumps is more common during winter and spring.

How is mumps spread?
Mumps is spread from person to person by coughing and sneezing and by direct contact with saliva and discharges from the nose and throat of infected individuals. Mumps is contagious three days prior to and four days after the onset of symptoms.

What can be done to prevent the spread of mumps?
The single most effective control measure is maintaining the highest possible level of immunization in the community. Children should not attend school during their infectious period.

What are the symptoms of mumps?
Symptoms of mumps usually appear 16 to 18 days of infection. They include fever, swelling and tenderness of one or more of the salivary glands, usually the parotid gland (located just below the front of the ear at the angle of the jaw). In mild cases the swelling may only last for three to four days, but it may go on even up to a week or more. Approximately one-third of infected people do not exhibit symptoms. There is no specific treatment for mumps. Analgesics and regular rinsing of the mouth are recommended to relieve symptoms.

Does past infection with mumps make a person immune?
Yes. Immunity acquired after contracting the disease is usually permanent.

What complications have been associated with mumps?
Most complications that arise involve other organs. Mumps can cause pain and swelling of the testicles, deafness and arthritis. It can cause central nervous system disorders such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the covering of the brain and spinal column). Other complications include inflammation of the pancreas and breasts and deafness.

How can mumps be prevented?
There is a vaccine against mumps. The vaccine is usually given together with measles and rubella in a vaccine shot called MMR. The vaccine usually produces life-long immunity. The first dose is usually given at 12-15 months of age. In most European countries the second dose is usually given between four and seven years of age. However, vaccination schedules differ considerably in different countries.

Is the MMR vaccine safe?
The MMR vaccine is safe and effective and generally has very few side effects. Mild reactions such as fever, redness or swelling at the injection site have been reported. Following media publicity surrounding a report published in 1998 claiming a link between MMR vaccination and autism, public confidence in some countries has been undermined. Findings of subsequent studies have shown no link between vaccination and autism. Indeed no health regulatory body in the world has changed its policy on measles vaccination as a result of this hypothesized link.

Note: The information presented by this fact sheet is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgement of healthcare professionals.
Updated: 1 December 2006
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