Close look on mumps

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Mumps is characterized by the painful swelling at the side of the face right below the ears (parotid glands). This causes an individual with mumps to have a distinctive “hamster face” appearance. The other symptoms of mumps include joint pain, headaches and high temperature (fever) that might develop a few days before the swelling of the parotid glands.

When to seek further care

It is vital to set an appointment with a doctor if mumps is suspected so that a diagnosis can be given. Even though mumps is not considered serious, it can cause similar symptoms to other serious forms of infection such as tonsillitis and glandular fever.

The doctor will make a diagnosis after assessing the swelling, inspecting the position of the tonsils in the mouth and taking the temperature to check if it is higher than the normal range.

An individual is considered highly contagious a few days before the symptoms develop and for a few days after.

Once the doctor suspects that the individual has mumps, a sample of the saliva might be tested in order to confirm or rule out a diagnosis.

How does mumps spread?

Mumps can spread in the same way as common cold and the flu – via infected droplets of saliva that can be inhaled or picked up from surfaces and transferred into the nose or mouth.

An individual is considered highly contagious a few days before the symptoms develop and for a few days after. During this period, it is vital to prevent the spread of infection to others especially young adults and teenagers who have not been vaccinated. If an individual have mumps, the following can help prevent its spread:

  • Avoid work or school for at least 5 days after the symptoms initially developed
  • Wash hands on a regular basis using water and soap
  • Use tissues and properly dispose of them after sneezing

How to prevent mumps

A child can be protected against mumps by ensuring that he/she has been given the combined MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella). The vaccine is part of the routine childhood immunization schedule.

The child must be given a dose when around 12-13 months and a second booster dose before starting school. Once both doses are given, the vaccine provides 95% protection against mumps.


Even today, there is no cure for mumps, but the infection can pass within 1-2 weeks. The treatment is aimed on relieving the symptoms which includes the following:

  • Encourage to get enough rest and increase intake of fluids
  • Apply a warm or cool compress on the swollen glands to relieve the pain
  • Provide pain medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen

What are the possible complications?

Mumps typically passes without causing any serious damage to the health. Any serious complications are considered uncommon. Nevertheless, mumps can lead to viral meningitis if the virus moves to the exterior layer of the brain. Other complications include swelling of the testicles among males or the ovaries in females.

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