Mumps is a viral infection of the salivary glands that can cause one or both sides of the face to swell up. Other symptoms include fever, headache, and tiredness.
Mumps is easily prevented by a vaccination. The incidence of mumps has declined by more than 90% in New Zealand in recent decades following the introduction of a national vaccination programme.
Although about 20–30 cases of mumps usually occur each year in New Zealand, sudden increases in the number of cases, called outbreaks, occasionally occur. An outbreak of mumps in 2017 affected more than 900 people in Auckland.
Outbreaks generally affect people who have not been vaccinated and mainly arise in places where people are in close contact, such as childcare centres, schools, and university campuses.
Symptoms and diagnosis
The primary sign of mumps is swollen salivary glands that are located near your ears, which may cause your cheeks to become large and puffed out. The salivary glands may also become tender or sore. One or both sides of the face may be affected.
Other signs and symptoms of mumps include:
- Not wanting to eat
- Aching muscles.
It usually takes 12–25 days after being infected before symptoms appear. However, 20 - 40% of people with the mumps have only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Those people can still pass the infection on to others.
If you think you or your child has mumps, you should call your GP practice before you go in so that steps can be taken to avoid spreading the virus to others in the waiting room.
Your GP can usually make a diagnosis after seeing and feeling the swelling, looking at your tonsils, and checking your temperature to see if it's higher than normal.
Getting a diagnosis from a GP may also be important because having swollen salivary glands and a fever can also indicate other illnesses such as glandular fever or tonsillitis . A swollen salivary gland can also indicate a blockage in a duct leading from the gland.
Mumps is caused by the mumps virus, which is easily spread to other people through infected saliva. Mumps can be caught by breathing in droplets of saliva from an infected person who has sneezed or coughed.
Mumps can also be caught from sharing drink bottles, cups, or eating utensils with someone who has mumps.
People are infectious (able to pass mumps to others) from one week before the swelling appears until five days after.
There is no specific treatment for mumps. Because mumps is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not work against it. Most people recover from mumps within a few weeks.
The aim of treatment is to improve comfort and reduce the risk of complications:
- Get plenty of bed rest
- Drink lots of chilled fluids, especially water, to prevent dehydration
- Apply warm or cold compresses to the swollen areas
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol to help ease symptoms (Note: don’t give aspirin to a child with flu-like symptoms as this has been linked to a rare and serious illness called Reye’s syndrome)
- Eat soft foods, e.g., soups, mashed potatoes, porridge, to avoid a lot of chewing.
- Avoid sour foods (e.g., citrus fruits or juices), which stimulate salivary glands to produce saliva.
Most people recover from the mumps without major problems. However, some individuals develop complications that, although rare, can be serious. Possible complications of mumps include:
- Profound deafness
- Pain and swelling of the testicles that can result in infertility
- Inflammation of the ovaries that can result in infertility
- Inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord (viral meningitis )
- Inflammation of the brain
- Inflammation of the pancreas
- Inflammation of the heart
- Miscarriage in early pregnancy.
The best protection against measles is achieved by receiving two doses of the combined measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, which is routinely given to children at 15 months and four years of age.
MMR vaccinations are free for everyone in New Zealand born after 1 January 1969. People aged 12 to 29 years have the highest risk of catching mumps. They are the group least likely to have been fully vaccinated as children. A person is considered protected (immune) if they were born prior to 1981; have had mumps previously; or have received the two doses of MMR vaccine.
If you or your child has mumps, you should stay away from others for five days after the swelling starts to help prevent mumps spreading. This means not going to day care, school, work, or anywhere there are other people that you could pass mumps on to, and not having visitors. Children who are still unwell after five days should remain at home until they are well.
People who have mumps or are caring for someone with mumps, should wash their hands with soap and warm water frequently and cover their coughs and sneezes.
It is also recommended that people get vaccinated before travelling overseas to protect themselves from mumps and to help prevent outbreaks in New Zealand.
Freephone: 0800 611 116
Immunisation Advisory Centre
Freephone: 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863)
Auckland Regional Public Health Service (2017). Auckland mumps outbreak update (PDF). Auckland: Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS). http://www.arphs.health.nz/health-professional-advice-and-alerts/auckland-mumps-outbreak-update/ [Accessed: 06/06/19]
Auckland Regional Public Health Service (2017). Mumps fact sheet (PDF). Auckland: Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS). http://www.arphs.health.nz/assets/Uploads/Resources/Disease-and-illness/Measles-Mumps-Rubella/Mumps-v1-20181025.pdf [Accessed: 06/06/19]
Immunisation Advisory Centre (2017). Mumps (Web Page). Auckland: University of Auckland. http://www.immune.org.nz/diseases/mumps [Accessed: 06/06/19]
Mayo Clinic (2018). Mumps (Web Page). Rochester, NY: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mumps/symptoms-causes/syc-20375361 [Accessed: 06/06/19]
Ministry of Health (2018). Mumps (Web Page). Wellington: New Zealand Government Ministry of Health. https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/diseases-and-illnesses/mumps [Accessed: 06/06/19]
NHS (2018). Mumps (Web Page). Redditch: National Health Service (NHS)
England. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/mumps/ [Accessed: 07/06/19]
O’Toole, M.T. (Ed.) (2017). Mumps. Mosby’s Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professions (10th ed.). St Louis, MI: Elsevier.
Updated: July 2019