By Liji Thomas, MD
Mumps is a viral disease caused by the mumps virus. It causes fever, headache, body aches and muscular pain, fatigue and loss of appetite. These are followed by swelling of the parotid salivary glands, just in front of the ear. This can be on one or both sides. The swelling lasts from a week to 10 days, and it may be painful to chew or swallow during this time. Recovery is usually uncomplicated, and occurs within a few weeks.
Mumps is a contagious disease. It has now become uncommon in most developed countries because of immunization, but is still common in many parts of the world.
It is transmitted by the virus present in cough or sneeze droplets, or rarely through urine. Transmission starts before the swelling is seen and lasts about 5 days after the start of the swelling. The incubation period, before clinical symptoms appear, ranges from 14 to 25 days. In about one-third of cases the infection is asymptomatic and is called subclinical infection. However, these people can still transmit the virus and are therefore called virus carriers.
Complications of mumps are signaled by unusually high or persistent fever, pain in other body areas or increasing illness, and include:
- Orchitis (inflammation of the testes) can occur in males who are post-pubertal. It can cause infertility, but this is rare
- Oophoritis (inflammation of the ovaries) and mastitis can develop in females similarly
- Encephalitis (brain inflammation)
- Meningitis (inflammation of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord)
- Deafness may occur due to nerve damage, usually affects both sides and may be permanent.
- Inflammation may also affect the thyroid, liver and pancreas.
- Miscarriage in a pregnant woman.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis depends on the history of symptoms, the physical examination, a history of travel to mumps-affected areas and blood tests to detect the presence of antibodies to the virus.
Treatment of the patient includes paracetamol to reduce high fever and keep the patient comfortable, soft wet nutritious foods which are easy to swallow, cold compresses against the swelling to help reduce pain and rest with plenty of fluids.
Isolation of the patient helps limit the spread of the disease.
To prevent transmission you should:
- Practice frequent hand washing, especially during food preparation, serving and clean-up, and also after you help to change clothes or bedclothes.
- Provide tissues or a clean handkerchief to sneeze or cough into.
- Avoid using the same utensils or towels as the sick person.
- Ensure that children receive the MMR vaccination, which confers about 70-80% protection, after one or two doses.
Last Updated: Sep 8, 2015