Mumps is a viral infection caused by the paramyxovirus. It is spread by droplets and saliva, through coughing and sneezing. It is less infectious than some infections such as rubella and chickenpox, requiring close contact with an infected person.

The illness usually starts with non specific symptoms such as lethargy, feeling run down and a temperature. The parotid glands (salivary glands at the side of the face) then swell; one or both sides may be affected. The swelling gives rise to the classic ‘chipmunk’ appearance. The glands are tender and painful. 30% of those affected may not have obvious symptoms of mumps.

Complete recovery with rest, fluids and paracetamol to relieve the discomfort, is the rule. However, complications can occur. The most well known (and feared) is orchitis (swelling of the testicles). The testicles can be very swollen and painful and the infection can cause damage leading to infertility. 20-30% of sexually mature men with mumps may get orchitis, but very few go on to suffer from problems with fertility.

Women may get inflamed ovaries (oophritis) but this does not usually lead to any problems.

Other complications include arthritis, meningitis, pancreatitis, myocarditis (inflammation of the muscle of the heart) and deafness.

The incubation period is 14-21 days There is some disagreement about how long an individual should be considered infectious. It may be from 7 days before the swelling of the salivary glands to upto10 days after. The Health protection agency in the UK state that "Exposed individuals should be considered infectious from 12 to 25 days after exposure." Children who have had the infection should stay away from school for 9-10 days after the start of salivary gland swelling. It is not recommended that close contacts who are otherwise well should be kept away from school. Early vaccination of previously unvaccinated individuals may help to prevent infection.

The infection can be prevented by immunisation and Mumps vaccine is one component of the MMR (mumps measles rubella vaccine)

Further information

MMR - The Facts

This article published on
08 February 2006

Next review date 2/1/2013


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