Definition and Overview

Mumps or epidemic parotitis is a childhood disease characterized by the painful swelling of the parotid gland, a salivary gland found in front of the ears and underneath the mouth. It is highly contagious but preventable.

Over the last few years, the cases of mumps have substantially declined in the United States mainly due to the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine that is administered to children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of cases dropped from 2,612 in 2010 to less than 250 in 2012. Back in the 1960s, when the vaccine was still nonexistent, more than 185,000 people developed mumps.

Nevertheless, there are still occasional outbreaks. For example, in 2011 to 2013, a few cases had been reported in college campuses found in Maryland, California, and Virginia. In 2009 to 2010, more than 2,500 people got sick of mumps within a religious group in New York City.

Mumps is not only painful, but it can also lead to certain complications. For example, the virus that causes the illness can travel through the brain, causing organ swelling (encephalitis). It may also affect the reproductive system of both male and female, where the testicles and the ovaries can become inflamed. However, contrary to popular belief, it’s unusual for men to become infertile due to mumps.

One of the most severe complications of mumps is deafness. It may also cause the inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), the organ that produces insulin, a hormone that regulates glucose in the blood.

Causes of Condition

Mumps is caused by the mumps virus, which belongs to the Rubulavirus family. The virus can infect the saliva, which may then be passed on from one person to another. This can happen if saliva droplets are touched or inhaled while it’s still in the air, as well as if the person comes into contact with somebody who has the virus. Mumps cannot be passed on to animals.

The following are the known risk factors for mumps:

  • The illness is more common among children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old, especially if they have not received the vaccine yet. Mumps is also more common during spring and winter.

  • Living in a crowded environment is also a common risk factor. Most of the recently reported outbreaks involved students, wherein one of them attends class and interacts with the others despite the presence of the disease.

  • Lastly, travel has made the spread of the disease much easier. This is because mumps is still common in other places, especially in developing countries.

Key Symptoms

  • Rounder appearance of the face
  • Swollen glands
  • Pain around the neck area
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Tenderness of the salivary glands

A person with mumps can be infectious even before the symptoms begin to appear. Usually, it takes at least 14 to 25 days after infection before the symptoms show up.

Who to See and Types of Treatments Available

Although it’s more commonly seen among children, mumps can strike at any age. Thus, the patient may approach a pediatrician (children) or an internist (adult). A general practitioner or a family care physician can also diagnose and treat mumps. In certain cases, such as when complications occur, a specialist may be called in to help.

For the diagnosis, the doctor performs a thorough physical exam, including feeling the salivary gland. The child may be asked if he feels some tenderness or pain around the area. His temperature will also be taken.

Doctors are often made aware of any kind of outbreak, so part of the consultation is to determine whether the child has been exposed to mumps. Depending on the results of the consultation, the doctor may then request for a saliva test to determine if there’s presence of the virus.

If there is, the doctor then advises the local health unit, who monitors any possible outbreak of infection.

Immunization is one of the best defenses against mumps. It involves the injection of the MMR vaccine, which is provided in two doses. The first dose is given while the child is between 12 and 15 months old. The second one is injected between 4 and 6 years old. It’s possible for the child to receive the second dose earlier, but it should be at least 28 days after the first dose. Adults, meanwhile, need at least one dose of the vaccine if they are born during or after 1957.

Not all mumps cases can be prevented by the vaccine, but it has a high success rate. To maximize protection, it’s always recommended to get both doses.

Vaccines should also be given to those who plan to travel internationally. Those who are 12 years old and above need two doses with an interval of 28 days.

If the child has mumps, certain steps can be undertaken to make the infection as bearable as possible. These include:

  • Putting ice packs on the swollen area
  • Getting plenty of bed rest and fluid
  • Not attending any social gathering
  • Keeping the utensils separate from the rest of the household
  • Washing the hands frequently
  • Gargling with water and salt
  • Eating soft or liquid food to reduce pain from chewing
  • Taking pain relievers when necessary

  • Mason WH. Mumps. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF. Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 240.

  • Litman N, Baum SG. Mumps virus. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 157.

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