Mumps is an infectious illness caused by the mumps virus. It causes swollen glands in the neck and can be caught at any age. However, it's now less common because of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination.
Before the mumps vaccination was introduced in Australia in 1981 (and as part of the MMR vaccine in 1989), mumps used to be very common. Now that MMR is a routine childhood vaccination, mumps has become much less common.
However, you can still catch mumps at any age if you haven't been vaccinated. There have been outbreaks of mumps infection in the past few years, particularly in 2007. Most of the people affected were born between 1978 to 1982, and had only been partially vaccinated against mumps or not been exposed to the virus naturally.
Nearly all people who've had mumps are immune for life and therefore won't catch it again.
Your symptoms will usually start two to three weeks after you've come into contact with someone who has the virus. These weeks are called the incubation period. About one in three children with mumps don't get any symptoms.
If you have mumps, you're infectious, and other people can catch mumps from you from two days before the onset of symptoms to nine days afterwards. Even if you don't have symptoms you can still be infectious. People with mumps should stay away from day care, preschool, school or work for at least nine days after their symptoms start.
At first, the symptoms of mumps are similar to those of flu, and can include:
A day or two later, you may develop earache and it may hurt to chew and swallow. Most people develop swellings on one or both sides of the neck just below the ears. These are swollen salivary (parotid) glands.
Adults may also develop other symptoms such as swollen testicles or ovaries. Swollen ovaries can cause pain or discomfort in your abdomen (tummy). A swollen testicle may be accompanied by other symptoms such as pain and discomfort, but this varies. These symptoms aren't always caused by mumps so if you have them, see your doctor.
Mumps usually gets better on its own without causing any other problems. However, a small number of people who have mumps go on to develop more serious health problems. Some of the main ones are:
See your GP if you or your child develop any of the following symptoms:
You should also see your GP if you have symptoms of mumps and are in the early part of your pregnancy. Catching mumps in the first three months of pregnancy increases the risk of having a miscarriage.
You can catch mumps from close personal contact with someone who is infected with the virus. The mumps virus is spread, as with cold or flu viruses, from contaminated surfaces or by the droplets released when someone coughs or sneezes. It's very contagious and can spread quickly among people who live or work together.
Your GP will usually diagnose mumps based on your symptoms and signs alone. However, they may order a blood test or sample from the throat or urine to confirm the diagnosis. Mumps is a notifiable disease. This means that if your GP diagnoses mumps they have to report it to your local Public Health Unit.
There's no specific treatment for mumps. It usually gets better on its own about a week after your symptoms start. However, you can treat the symptoms of mumps, which will make you feel more comfortable.
If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. However, children under the age of 16 should not take or be given aspirin because of the risk of a serious condition called Reye's syndrome that affects the brain and liver.
Always read the accompanying consumer medicine information leaflet and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
You may find that putting a hot or cold compress on your swollen salivary glands also helps.
If your symptoms get worse, or haven't improved after a week, see your GP.
Mumps can be prevented by having a vaccination. In Australia, the MMR vaccine is recommended for children at the ages of one and four years. For adults who've only ever received a single dose of mumps vaccine, a second dose of MMR can be given at any age.
If you've been in contact with someone who has mumps, being vaccinated afterwards won't prevent you from catching it.
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Last published: 30 July 2011
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