Symptoms of mumps
The symptoms of mumps usually develop 14 to 25 days after becoming infected with the mumps virus. This delay is known as the incubation period.
Painful swellings at the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands) are the most common symptom of mumps.
The parotid glands are a pair of glands that produce saliva. Both glands are usually affected by the swelling (‘parotitis’), although only one gland can be affected.
The swelling can cause pain, tenderness and difficulty with swallowing.
More general symptoms often develop a few days before the parotid glands swell. These can include:
- non-specific symptoms, such as a temperature 38C (100.4F), or above, headache, earache, feeling of being unwell, muscle ache, and loss of appetite
- epididymo-orchitis (inflammation/swelling of the testicles) - in adult men, it is usually in one testicle and in some men, both testicles will be affected (this can sometimes cause reduced fertility)
- oophoritis (inflammation of the ovaries) - affects a small amount of women and causes nausea, vomiting, and lower abdominal pain - it rarely causes complications
- viral meningitis – affects up to 10 per cent of people who contract mumps
- deafness - affects a small amount of people, but is rarely permanent
- pancreatitis (causes upper abdominal (stomach) discomfort) - affects about four per cent of people, but is nearly always mild and lasts a short time
In about one in three cases, mumps doesn't cause any noticeable symptoms.
Treatment for mumps
There's currently no cure for mumps. The infection should pass within one or two weeks.
Treatment is used to relieve symptoms and includes:
- getting plenty of bed rest and fluids
- using painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol – aspirin shouldn't be given to children under 16
- applying a warm or cool compress to the swollen glands to help relieve pain
Mumps usually passes without causing serious damage to a person's health. Serious complications are rare.
Mumps can lead to viral meningitis if the virus moves into the outer layer of the brain.
Other complications include swelling of the testicles in males or the ovaries in females (if the affected person has gone through puberty).
When to see your GP
It's important to contact your GP if you suspect mumps so a diagnosis can be made.
Your GP can usually make a diagnosis after asking about your symptoms and examining you.
Let your GP know if you're coming to the surgery. This is so they can take any necessary precautions to prevent the spread of infection.
If your GP suspects mumps, they should tell the Public Health Agency (PHA). The PHA may arrange for a sample of saliva to be tested to confirm or rule out you or your child has mumps.
How mumps is spread
Mumps is spread in the same way as colds and flu. It is spread in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
A person is most contagious a few days before the symptoms develop and for a few days afterwards.
During this time, it's important to prevent the infection spreading to others, particularly teenagers and young adults who haven't been vaccinated.
If you have mumps, you can help prevent it spreading by:
- regularly washing your hands with soap
- using and disposing of tissues when you sneeze
- avoiding school or work for at least five days after your symptoms first develop
Cause of mumps
Mumps is caused by the mumps virus, which belongs to a family of viruses known as paramyxoviruses.
These viruses are a common source of infection, particularly in children.
You can protect your child against mumps by making sure they're given the combined MMR vaccine (for mumps, measles and rubella).
The MMR vaccine is part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule.
Who is affected
Most cases of mumps occur in younger adults (usually born between 1980 and 1990) who didn’t receive the MMR vaccine as part of their childhood vaccination schedule or didn't have mumps as a child.
Once you've been infected by the mumps virus, you normally develop a life-long immunity to further infection.