Mumps Disease: A Doctor Talks Causes & More

    Mumps, an infectious disease, is caused by the mumps virus. Its main characteristic is edema (swelling) of the salivary glands, especially the parotids glands.

    The parotid glands are the major salivary gland in humans; they are located in front of both ears andon either side of the mouth. Each parotid gland secretes saliva into the mouth to facilitate chewing and swallowing.

    The MMR vaccine can prevent mumps. This protects against three diseases, measles, mumps, and rubella. Before vaccines, mumps was a universal disease of childhood. Historically, it affects children between five and 14 years old; however, since the introduction of the vaccine the majority of cases now occur among teenagers and young adults. Despite the effectiveness of the vaccine, there are still cases and epidemic outbreaks, secondary to lower levels of antibodies over the years.

    How Can I Get Mumps?

    The mumps virus causes mumps. The only known reservoir of mumps are humans. Airborne droplets infected with the mumps virus from salivary, nasal and urinary secretions transmit the virus. It presents seasonally, specifically in winter and spring. Generally, the contacts acquire the infection after exposure to someone infected. The virus spreads the most the 2 days before the start of the symptoms to 4 days after the start of the symptoms; people are infectious for approximately 7 days. Up to one third of the contacts will become sick.

    After the contact, it takes between 14-25 days (average of 19 days) to develop symptoms; this is the incubation period. Once in contact the mumps virus spreads through the nasopharynx and lymphatic glands, reaching the salivary glands, pancreas, testicules, ovaries and nervous central system. The virus is eliminated through saliva and urine.

    What Are The Symptoms Of Mumps?

    10-20% of infections are asymptomatic; these mean that despite being infected and contagious, the person will not feel any symptoms.

    40 to 50% of infected people present flu-like symptoms, such as fever, tiredness, muscle pain, body aches, and headache. These symptoms can easily be confused with other infections. Forty percent of the infected people present the typical symptoms of mumps. The criteria to diagnose mumps is fever with at least one of the following:

    • Sudden edema of the parotids glands: edema refers to the swelling of the parotid glands is the most common sign present in up to 70% of the cases. Normally, the parotid glands are not easily felt. During a mumps infection, the size of the glands can be about five times bigger than it’s normal size. In most cases, the edema affects both glands.
    • Orchitis or meningitis. Orchitis is the inflammation of the testicules. It typically appears in 20-50% of males. Females can have oophoritis, the inflammation of ovaries but is less common only affecting 5%. Meningitis and encephalitis can also occur; this refers to the inflammation of the brain and the membranes that surround it. It is uncommon, affecting only 0.02-0.3% of the patients. The symptoms can be seizures, loss of consciousness, and severe headache. Meningitis and encephalitis is a dangerous complication that can cause death.

    The infection can cause muscles ache and pain, lack of appetite, and abdominal pain. The fever disappears after a week; the edema of the parotid gland can last 10 days. Mumps can affect the other smaller salivary glands beside the parotid.

    Mumps can cause pancreatitis, which is the inflammation of the pancreas. The symptoms include nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

    Women that become infected with mumps during the first trimester of pregnancy have a higher risk of miscarriages.


    The diagnosis is made by evaluating the clinic of the patient and obtaining the levels of serum amylase, an enzyme present in saliva that helps with the metabolism of starches. During mumps infection, the levels of serum amylase are elevated due to the inflammation of the salivary glands.

    The only way to confirm the mumps diagnosis is through a serologic test. This test measures the antibodies against the virus. Antibodies are proteins designed by the cells of the immune system to fight against viruses and bacteria. Antibodies are specific to each pathogen. The serologic test will determine if the person is currently infected or has been infected in the past.

    What Is The Treatment?

    Mumps disease is a virus, therefore it does not respond to antibiotics or other medications. The focus is on treating the symptoms and making the patient more comfortable. The suggestions are:

    • eat well
    • drink fluids, especially water
    • avoid acidic foods and drinks, because these require the salivary glands to produce more saliva
    • consider over the counter anti-inflammatory medicine can help with the discomfort 
    • apply ice packs as they help with the inflammation of the parotids glands


    The only way to prevent the mumps infection is through vaccination. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) recommends getting the vaccine starting at 12 months through 15 months of age, and the second dose at four through six years old. Teen and adult vaccination is recommended to prevent the infection, because the effect of the vaccine decreases throw-out the years.

    When a person is diagnosed with mumps isolation is suggested within the first 5 days of the infection, and the vaccination of the contacts is recommended to prevent the infection.

    Is Mumps A Serious Disease?

    Complications from mumps don’t happen often, but they can be serious if not treated on time. The main complications include encephalitis, meningitis, orchitis, and pancreatitis. You should always visit a doctor if you present any of the symptoms listed above.

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