Published on February 12, 2024 at 8:00 / Updated on February 24, 2024 at 8:00

Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It most often affects children, but can also occur in adults. Cases of mumps in Canada are rare due to vaccination, but the infection is widespread in many parts of the world.

The mumps virus attacks the salivary glands and causes inflammation. The infection is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • A mild fever lasting 1-2 days
  • Painful swelling of the cheeks and neck
  • Pain when chewing
  • Headaches
  • Ear pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite

In some cases, the infection causes no symptoms. Otherwise, initial symptoms usually appear 12-25 days after exposure to the virus and last 3-10 days.

In adults, mumps can cause inflammation of the testes in men and inflammation of the ovaries in women. In rare cases, it can cause infertility. Below are other possible complications:

  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or the lining of the brain (meningitis)
  • Temporary or permanent deafness
  • Inflammation of the breasts
  • Miscarriage in early pregnancy

Causes and triggers

Mumps is caused by a virus. It is a highly contagious infection that is spread through secretions from the nose and throat of an infected person. It can be transmitted in one of two ways:

  • Direct contact with the saliva of an infected person (e.g., a kiss)
  • Indirect contact
    • With droplets coughed into the air by an infected person
    • With an object contaminated with the saliva of an infected person

An infected person is contagious 2 days before their neck begins to swell and up to 5 days after. People with the disease develop immunity to the virus and will therefore catch it only once.

Treatment

There is no cure for mumps. The disease heals on its own. During recovery, it is recommended to do the following:

  • Get lots of rest
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat soft foods
  • Avoid acidic foods, which can make the pain worse
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers (e.g., Advil, Tylenol)

The best way to avoid contracting mumps is to get vaccinated. Good hand hygiene also helps prevent infection. People with symptoms should stay home for 5 days to avoid spreading the disease.

When should I see a health care professional?

Speak with your health care provider in the following situations:

  • You're planning a trip abroad and have not been vaccinated against mumps
  • You've been in contact with someone with mumps
  • You have mumps symptoms

If you go to a health care facility, let the staff know that you have symptoms of mumps or have been in contact with an infected person. Measures may be taken to prevent you from transmitting the disease.

For more information:

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