An illness causing swelling of the salivary glands on one or both sides of the jaw

  • Mainly affects unimmunized schoolchildren and young adults
  • Gender, genetics, and lifestyle are not significant factors

Mumps is a mild viral infection that was common among schoolchildren until routine immunization was introduced. The mumps virus is spread in saliva and in minute airborne droplets from the coughs and sneezes of infected people. The virus causes swelling and inflammation of one or both of the parotid salivary glands, which are situated below and just in front of the ears. If both glands are affected, the child’s face may have a hamster-like appearance. In adolescent boys and men, the virus may affect the testes; rarely, this effect may result in problems with fertility (see Male infertility).

What are the symptoms?

Up to half of all people with mumps develop no symptoms, and in most other people the symptoms are mild. The main symptoms appear 2–3 weeks after infection and may include:

  • Pain and swelling on one or both sides of the face, below and just in front of the ear, lasting about 3 days.

  • Pain when swallowing.

A person infected with the mumps virus may also have a sore throat and fever, and the salivary glands under the chin may become painful. He or she is contagious from 2 days before the swelling first appears until 5 days after the swelling has appeared.

About 1 in 4 adolescent boys or adult men with mumps also develops painful inflammation of one or both testes (see Epididymo-orchitis). Rarely, the inflammation may result in infertility. A few people who develop mumps also develop viral meningitis, in which the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. Inflammation of the pancreas (see Acute pancreatitis) is a rare complication of mumps.

What might be done?

Your doctor will probably diagnose the disorder from the distinctive swelling of the parotid glands. There is no specific treatment, but drinking plenty of cool fluids and taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, may relieve discomfort. Most people recover without further treatment, but adolescent boys and men who have severe inflammation of the testes may be prescribed a stronger painkiller. If complications develop, other types of treatment may be recommended.

Inflamed parotid gland

The parotid glands are situated below and just in front of each ear. In the viral infection mumps, one (as shown here) or both parotid glands may become swollen.

Can it be prevented?

Babies are immunized against mumps as part of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) immunization given at 12–15 months and then between 3 and 5 years (see Routine immunizations). Immunization or an attack of mumps usually give lifelong immunity.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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