The mumps virus causes the mumps disease. It is very contagious, and considered to be a disease of childhood, although numbers have significantly reduced since a vaccine came in. This is given as the MMR vaccine in the UK, a combined vaccine given in several doses in early childhood protecting against measles, mumps and rubella.
Just like the viruses causing colds and flu, mumps is easily spread from infected saliva or mucus in the mouth, nose or throat. It can be inhaled or picked up from contaminated surfaces and transferred to the mouth or nose.
The most common symptom of mumps is a swelling of the salivary gland in front of the ear, usually affecting just one side of the face, and giving a characteristic hamster appearance. This is parotitis.
A few days before the swelling appears, people can also experience high temperatures, headaches and muscle aches. For this reason, people are most infectious a few days before the symptoms develop and for a few days after.
If you are unwell with mumps, the best way to stop the spread is by good hygiene. Regular and thorough washing of your hands, disposing of used tissues after coughing or sneezing, and avoiding contact with others for 5 days after your symptoms begin.
Cases of mumps have increased in recent years. People are most at risk of mumps if they haven’t received the MMR vaccine. Young adults between the ages of 17 to 34 who haven’t received the completed vaccine schedule are most at risk.
As an adult, it’s important to check that you received your full vaccination schedule – you can ask your parent or check on your doctor's records. If you missed one or even all of the doses, it’s not too late to catch up and get protected. Speak to your doctor or practice nurse about getting vaccinated.
Mumps can sometimes be painful and make it difficult to eat and swallow and therefore taking some simple painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen, may help alleviate your symptoms.
You can also use a cool compress on your glands to reduce any swelling or pain.
Mumps can cause swelling of the testicles in men, a condition known as orchitis. The testicle may be warm, swollen or painful and can be managed with simple painkillers.
Women may get a similar presentation in their ovaries, called oophoritis. This can cause lower tummy pain, nausea or vomiting, and fevers.
Mumps can also lead to viral meningitis, with flu-like symptoms, headaches and neck stiffness. These symptoms usually improve after 14 days and the risk of serious complications is low, unlike bacterial meningitis, which is an emergency.
Pancreatitis is also a risk, causing inflammation of the pancreas. It gives a sharp pain in the upper centre of the tummy, just below the breast bone, and can make you feel very sick.
If you think you or your child may have mumps, it’s important to consult with your doctor for a diagnosis and to manage any complications. Mumps can usually be diagnosed by the symptoms but this needs a formal diagnosis. Your doctor has to notify cases of mumps to Public Health England by law, so they can monitor any outbreaks. This government body will arrange a swab to be sent to you.
Mumps is a very contagious disease and so whilst you are unwell, you should reduce your contact with other people, for at least 5 days after your symptoms began. We would advise you to stay home from school and work, and not socialise with others. You are not fit for work.
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