At a glance

  • Mumps is a viral infection that can occur at any age. It is rare nowadays.

  • It typically leads to painful swelling on one or both sides of the face.

  • Mumps can cause flu-like symptoms.

  • The possible complications include inflammation in organs such as the testicles or inner ear.

  • Mumps can be prevented with a vaccine, so hardly any children get it nowadays.

Introduction

Photo of a boy being examined by a doctor (PantherMedia / imagepointfr) Mumps is a viral infection that mainly occurred in children and teenagers in the past. Although it is generally a mild illness, it sometimes leads to inflammation in various glands and organs, causing long-term problems.

Thanks to the introduction of a routine mumps vaccination, the illness is very rare nowadays.

Symptoms

At first, mumps may cause flu-like symptoms such as a fever, cough or headache. Salivary glands (saliva-producing glands) known as parotid glands also become inflamed on one or both sides of the face. This leads to the typical painful swelling of the cheeks.

The salivary gland under the tongue can become inflamed and swollen too. There may also be noticeable swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck. The swelling goes away again after 3 to 8 days.

One third of all people who have mumps don’t have any symptoms, or only mild ones. But they can still pass the disease on to other people.

 

Illustration: Swollen cheek in a child with mumpsSwollen cheek in a child with mumps

Causes

Mumps is usually spread through tiny droplets of spit that are released into the air when talking, coughing or sneezing. If these droplets land on objects and stay there, other people might get mumps by touching those objects.

Prevalence

Mumps is very rare nowadays. Before the vaccine was introduced, about 200 out of 100,000 people had mumps per year in Germany. Nowadays only about 1 out of 100,000 people get it. Most of them are teenagers or young adults.

Outlook

The symptoms occur about 2 to 3 weeks after becoming infected. They last around 1 to 2 weeks.

There is a risk of infecting others as early as 7 days before – and up to 9 days after – the cheek swelling starts. People who have had mumps are usually immune to it for the rest of their lives. In other words, they can't get it again.

Effects

Mumps can lead to inflammation in various organs. These complications are more common in adults than in children. The inflammation may occur in the:

  • Testicles: This mainly happens in teenagers and adults. It occurs in about 15 to 30 out of 100 teenage boys and men, and lasts up to two weeks. Inflammation of the testicles can reduce a man's overall fertility forever. But it rarely causes infertility.
  • Mammary glands (in the breast): in about 30 out of 100 women.
  • Ovaries: in about 5 out of 100 women.
  • Brain (encephalitis): in about 1 out of 100 people.

In rarer cases, the inflammation may occur in the pancreas or hearing nerves. If a hearing nerve becomes inflamed, it can lead to hearing loss.

Diagnosis

Doctors can usually recognize mumps based on the typical swelling on one or both sides of the face. To confirm this diagnosis, a throat swab or urine sample needs to be taken and tested for the virus. A blood sample can also be taken and tested for antibodies to the mumps virus.

Prevention

There is an effective vaccine that prevents mumps. The vaccine is recommended for all children and everyone who works in community facilities such as daycare centers, schools, further education facilities and hospitals. People who haven’t had the vaccine, or have only had one dose, are also advised to be vaccinated if they have come into contact with someone who has mumps. The aim is to prevent the infection from spreading.

The mumps vaccine is given together with the measles and rubella vaccines in a combined vaccine (the MMR vaccine), or additionally together with the chickenpox vaccine (the MMRV vaccine). You can’t get a mumps vaccine on its own in Germany.

The first dose of the vaccine is given at the age of 11 months. A second dose is given at the age of 15 months. Children who go to a daycare center before that can already be vaccinated from the age of 9 months.

After having the second dose of the vaccine, about 90 out of 100 people are immune to (protected against) mumps. This protection usually lasts for the rest of their lives. In rare cases people still get mumps even though they have had the vaccine. This mainly happens in older adults because the protective effect of the vaccine can wear off over time. The protective effect may also be weaker in people who have only received the first dose of the vaccine.

It is important that people have the mumps vaccine in order to stop the disease from spreading. If most of the population has been vaccinated, that also protects people who can’t have the vaccine yet, such as young babies. This is known as herd immunity or the herd effect. For herd immunity to be achieved, as many people as possible have to have an effective vaccination.

Treatment

There are no effective treatments to fight the virus that causes mumps. But the symptoms can be relieved with painkillers or fever-lowering medications. It’s important to get plenty of bed rest so that your body can fight the infection and recover. If complications develop, you may have to go to hospital for treatment and stay there for a while.

Everyday life

People who have mumps should avoid close contact with other people in order to prevent passing it on to them. They shouldn't go to community facilities such as schools, daycare centers or nursing homes. This is also true if they work there. They should avoid public events, parties and other social occasions until their symptoms have gone away.

It is important to inform everyone who you have (had) personal contact with about the possibility of infection. This also includes calling the doctor's practice beforehand so that they can take the necessary safety precautions when you go there. People who don’t have enough protection against mumps are advised to have the vaccination as soon as possible if they come into contact with someone who has the disease. The aim of doing this is to prevent it from spreading further.

Further information

In Germany and other countries, mumps is officially an infectious disease that must be reported. If a doctor suspects that you have mumps, they have to inform the relevant health authorities immediately – even if the diagnosis hasn't yet been confirmed.

When people are ill or need medical advice, they usually go to see their family doctor or pediatrician first. Read about how to find the right doctor, how to prepare for the appointment and what to remember.