Mumps Frequently Asked Questions
What is mumps?
Mumps is an acute viral infection that is spread from person to person. It is a potentially serious disease for children and young adults and is very common in young children not vaccinated against it. Mumps is a notifiable disease.
Who gets mumps?
Mumps usually occurs in school-aged children, teenagers or young adults, although older people may contract the disease. Most infections in children less than two years old are subclinical (no apparent symptoms). Mumps is more common in winter and spring.
What are the symptoms of infection?
Symptoms of mumps include fever, headache, malaise and swollen, tender salivary glands (usually the parotid which is a type of salivary gland located just below the front of each ear). Mumps often gives the appearance of swollen cheeks or jaw.
Symptoms of mumps begin to appear 12 to 25 days (usually 16-18 days) after exposure in about 30%-40% of infected individuals. Approximately 20% of infected individuals will have no symptoms. An additional 40%-50% may have only non-specific or primarily respiratory symptoms (particularly in children less than five years of age).
Symptoms tend to decrease after one week and have usually resolved after 10 days.
What complications have been associated with mumps?
Complications of mumps may occur and can include:
- Viral meningitis - symptomatic viral meningitis occurs in up to 15% of patients. Adults are more at risk of this complication than children, and boys are more commonly infected than girls (3:1 ratio).
- Orchitis (testicular inflammation) - occurs in 25-50% of post-pubertal males (sterility is rare). Oophoritis (ovarian inflammation) occurs in approximately 5% of post-pubertal females. Mastitis (breast inflammation) has also been reported among females.
- Pancreatitis (pancreas inflammation) is reported in about 4% of cases.
- Encephalitis (brain inflammation) is rare (reported in 0.02-0.3% of cases).
- Deafness has been reported in approximately 1 in 20,000 patients.
Other complications may include mastitis, arthritis, nephritis (kidney inflammation), or myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation). Death from mumps is rare.
Diagnosis of acute mumps infection
Confirmation of mumps infection is possible through a blood or salivary test (an oral fluid sample taken by a swab). These tests detect the level of antibodies to the mumps virus and are usually recommended to provide laboratory confirmation.
Is there any treatment for mumps?
There is no specific treatment for mumps. Treatment should be based on relieving the symptoms.
How is mumps spread?
Mumps is spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing and by direct contact with saliva or discharges from the nose and throat of infected individuals. People infected with mumps may spread the infection to others even when they do not have any symptoms.
Infectiousness of mumps
Mumps virus has been isolated from 7 days before onset of parotitis to 8 days after, but individuals with parotitis are most infectious in the 2-3 days before and the 4-5 days after onset of symptoms.
What can be done to prevent mumps?
Mumps can be prevented by vaccination. In Ireland, mumps vaccine is given as part of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. MMR uptake rates among children in Ireland remain below the target of 95% required to prevent the spread of mumps. Ensuring high coverage is important to prevent outbreaks occurring.
The MMR vaccine was first introduced in 1988 and in 1992 a second dose of MMR was recommended for children aged 10-14 years. In 1999 the age of the second dose of MMR was lowered to children aged 4-5 years. The introduction of the MMR vaccine has led to a decrease in the number of cases of mumps reported.
All children should be vaccinated with 2 doses of MMR as part of the routine childhood immunisation programme.
Preventing transmission from individuals with mumps
Individuals with mumps should not attend work, school, college, university or child-care during their infectious period (i.e. for 5 days after onset of parotid swelling) in view of the possibility of transmitting virus to non-immune individuals.
Mumps and pregnancy
It has been reported that catching mumps during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage but there is little evidence to support this. Malformations following mumps virus infection during pregnancy have not been found. The risks for the mother are the same as for the other adults. Pregnant women should not receive mumps vaccine (i.e. not receive MMR as this is a live vaccine).
Women who are not pregnant and receive MMR vaccine should avoid pregnancy for one month after vaccination.
Further information on mumps is available from:
• HPSC: Mumps
• Immunisation uptake statistics for Ireland
• WHO: Health Topics - Mumps
• CDC, US: Vaccines & Immunizations - Mumps Immunization
• Public Health England: Mumps guidance, data and analysis
• ECDC: Mumps
Last reviewed: 20 February 2019