The Disease Called Mumps

Mumps is a disease caused by a virus that usually spreads through saliva and can infect many parts of the body, especially the parotid salivary glands. These glands, which produce saliva for the mouth, are found toward the back of each cheek, in the area between the ear and jaw. In cases of mumps, these glands typically swell and become painful. After a case of mumps it is very unusual to have a second bout because one attack of mumps almost always gives lifelong protection against another. However, other infections can also cause swelling in the salivary glands, which might lead a parent to mistakenly think a child has had mumps more than once.

Symptoms appear in the first week after the parotid glands begin to swell. Mumps can start with a fever as well as headache and loss of appetite. There can also be nausea, stiff neck, drowsiness and convulsions. The swelling of the parotid glands will then appear and usually painful. Both left and right parotid glands may be affected with one side swelling after a few days of the other. Muscle aches can also be experienced and feeling tiredness. Mumps can lead to serous complications like inflammation and swelling of the brain and other organs.

Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) are both rare complications of mumps. Mumps in adolescent and males may also result in orchitis, the inflammation of the testicles. In females, mumps may affect the pancreas or the ovaries causing pain and tenderness in the abdomen.

Inflammation of the ovaries (oophoritis) and inflammation of breast (mastitis) can also occur. Miscarriage in early stage of pregnancy can also happen. Lastly, since the parotid glands are affected and it is near the ears, there is also a risk of deafness, which is permanent.

The mumps virus is contagious and spreads in tiny drops of fluid from the mouth and nose of someone who is infected. It can be passed to others through sneezing, coughing, or even laughing. The virus can also spread to other people through direct contact, such as picking up tissues or using drinking glasses that have been used by the infected person. Surfaces of items can also spread the virus if someone who is sick touches them without washing their hands, and someone else then touches the same surface and then rubs their eyes, mouth, nose. Mumps are most contagious two days before the symptoms begin and up to six days after the symptoms end.

If someone becomes very ill, they should seek medical attention. If someone seeks medical attention, they should call their doctor in advance so that they don’t have to sit in the waiting room for a long time and possibly infect other patients. Mumps can be prevented by vaccination. It is given as a part of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunization. First dose is usually given at 12-15 months of age while the second is given at 4-6 years of age. It is the best way to prevent mumps. Other things people can do to prevent mumps and other infections is to wash hands well and often with soap, and to teach children to wash their hands too. Eating utensils should not be shared, and surfaces that are frequently touched (toys, doorknobs, tables, counters, etc) should also be regularly cleaned with soap and water, or with cleaning wipes.

Mumps is not a virus so it cannot be treated with antibiotics. There is no specific treatment. Supportive care should be given as needed. You can also soothe the swollen parotid glands with either warm or cold packs. Serve a soft, bland diet that does not require a lot of chewing and encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids. Avoid serving tart or acidic fruit juices (like orange juice, grapefruit juice, or lemonade) that make parotid pain worse. Water, decaffeinated soft drinks, and tea are better tolerated.

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