Mumps is a childhood illness which commonly affects children aged two years and over although it can occur at any age and can affect adults. It is a viral infection of the saliva-producing parotid glands which can be found just below and in front of the ears. It can occur at any time of year but is much more prevalent in winter and spring.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually appear 2-3 weeks after being in contact with an infected person. The first signs of mumps usually include a high temperature and a headache. The salivary glands in the neck can then become swollen and sore. Often the swelling occurs unevenly, affecting one side of the face before the other. The swelling can last between four and eight days. As a result of the swelling you may have difficulty chewing and swallowing and may develop a sore throat.You may also experience tiredness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and a dry mouth.

Symptoms are usually quite mild in children and a third of children experience no symptoms at all. However, the effects of the virus can be much more serious in adults. Adolescent and adult females can get inflammation of the ovaries and males can get inflammation of the testicles.

Causes

Mumps is caused by the paramyxovirus. It is contagious and can be released into the air in tiny airborne droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. These droplets circulate and can then enter another person's body through their mouth or nose. The virus can also be passed by close contact. If you shake someone's hand after they have sneezed or wiped their nose and then put your fingers in your mouth, then this can spread the virus.

A person with mumps is infectious from several days (up to a week) before the swelling appears until several days after the swelling goes down.

Avoiding Mumps

Anyone with mumps should avoid contact with others until five days after the glands begin to swell. Children should stay away from school during this time.

In the UK the MMR vaccine is offered to all children as part of the national immunisation programme. It is given in two doses and provides protection against measles, mumps and rubella. The first dose is generally given at 12-15 months with a second booster dose at four years.

Treatment

There is no cure for mumps, it will clear up on its own without treatment. Once you have had mumps it is extremely unlikely that you will get it again (i.e. having the disease gives lifelong immunity against it as does having the vaccine.)Simple pain relief treatments containing paracetamol or ibuprofen can help to ease aches and pains and reduce fever. Aspirin should NOT be given to anyone with mumps due to the risk of a disease called Reye's syndrome. You should make sure that you drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. It is easy to become dehydrated if you have a high temperature.

Holding a warm flannel against swollen glands can be soothing.

When To See A Doctor

If you suspect that you may have mumps you must notify your doctor. This is especially important if you are pregnant or if you are man and you develop swollen or painful testicles.

If you have mumps do NOT go to your doctor's surgery without telephoning first due to the risk of infecting others in high-risk groups.

Additional Information

Leaflets about chickenpox, paracetamol and ibuprofen are also available from any pharmacy.