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Mumps Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on January 20, 2010

Mumps is usually thought to be a mildly annoying disease of childhood, but it can occur in adults too, and may cause severe illness in both adults and children. Along with most of the other childhood diseases, such as measles and chickenpox, mumps is a viral illness. Thus antibiotics, which act only against bacteria, have no effect on the mumps virus. There is no cure for the disease, and once contracted, it has to take its course.

Since 1980, there has been a vaccine that will give lifelong protection. The vaccine is usually combined with those against measles and German measles, and is given between 12 and 15 months of age. Children born before 1979 may not be protected, and should have the vaccine now to protect them in the future. It is important to vaccinate against mumps, not just because it may cause your children to become ill at an inconvenient time, but because mumps may be a significant disease, particularly in adults. Inflammation of the brain, testicles and ovaries may occur. The kidneys, heart and thyroid gland may also be damaged. Very rarely, death may occur. Although many of these complications are uncommon, prevention of mumps is far better than cure, particularly as there is no cure.

Mumps is spread from one person to another in microscopic droplets of fluid that come from your nose and mouth whenever you breathe out. It takes two to three weeks from the time of contact for the disease to develop. The patient is infectious from one or two days before the symptoms appear, until all the swelling of the glands has disappeared. The degree of infectivity declines steadily as the disease progresses, so that the chance of catching mumps from a victim who has had symptoms for several days is far less than when the symptoms first start. Most people know the main symptoms of the disease from personal experience.

Fever, swollen tender glands just under the jaw, headache, and a general feeling of ill-being. Sometimes one side of the neck is involved, and not the other. In this situation, the other side may swell up several days after the first side has subsided, prolonging the disease beyond its normal eight to twelve day course.

The glands in the neck that are normally involved are called the parotid glands. Their task is to make most of the saliva that is in our mouth, and a small tube leads from the gland to deliver the saliva to the back of the mouth, just behind the last bottom tooth on each side. For this reason, patients with mumps often experience pain in the gland if spicy or highly flavored food is eaten, or even smelled.

Once you have had mumps, it is extremely unlikely that you will develop the illness again.

Treatment is simple and straightforward. Rest is the most important element, with aspirin, paracetamol and/or codeine for the pain and fever. Recovery is usually uneventful, but if complications do occur, medical advice should be sought. Even if inflammation of the testicles occurs, sterility is unusual. Obviously, exclusion from school is mandatory for the course of the disease.

If you or your children have not had mumps or the vaccination, see your general practitioner to obtain lifelong protection.

Please Note:

  • The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.

  • The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.

  • Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.


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