Mumps is an infection that spreads easily. It used to be common in children before the introduction of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Mumps usually clears within 1 or 2 weeks.
Symptoms of mumps
The symptoms of mumps usually develop 14 to 25 days after you're infected.
Mumps causes painful swellings at the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands). It gives a distinctive 'hamster face' appearance.
Other symptoms of mumps can include:
- joint pain
- feeling sick
- dry mouth
- mild stomach (abdominal) pain
- feeling tired
- loss of appetite
- a high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F), or above
These may develop a few days before the swelling of the parotid glands.
Sometimes, mumps doesn't cause any noticeable symptoms.
Mumps is not usually serious, but it has similar symptoms to more serious types of infection, such as glandular fever and tonsillitis.
You should phone your GP first before visiting. They can make arrangements to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.
Your GP can usually make a diagnosis after:
- seeing and feeling the swelling
- looking at the position of the tonsils in the mouth
- checking your temperature to see if it's higher than normal
If your GP suspects mumps, they should notify your local health protection unit (HPU). The HPU will arrange for a sample of saliva to be tested to confirm or rule out the diagnosis.
Most cases of mumps occur in people aged between 17 and 34 who have not received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine.
Once you've had mumps, your body builds up resistance (immunity) to the virus. It's highly unlikely you'll get it again.
How mumps is spread
The mumps virus is contained in tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
You can easily catch mumps by breathing in these droplets. Or, if the droplets have settled on a surface, by touching the surface and then placing your hands near your nose or mouth.
A person is most contagious a few days before the symptoms develop and for a few days afterwards.
How to prevent spreading mumps to others
If you have mumps:
- stay off school or work for at least 5 days after your symptoms first develop
- regularly wash your hands with soap
- use and dispose of tissues when you sneeze
- avoid close contact with anyone who isn't fully vaccinated
How mumps can be prevented
Mumps can be prevented by having the MMR vaccine.
This is given in 2 doses as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
You can be vaccinated at any age if you haven't been fully vaccinated before.
Treatment for mumps
There are things you can do to help relieve your symptoms.
Complications of mumps
Mumps usually passes without causing serious damage to a person's health. Serious complications are rare.
However, 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.
About 1 in 20 cases of mumps lead to acute pancreatitis. This is usually mild, but you may be admitted to hospital so your body functions can be supported until your pancreas recovers.
About 1 in 20 people with mumps experience some temporary hearing loss, but permanent loss of hearing is rare.