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Mumps - Topic Overview

What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious viral infection that can cause painful swelling of the salivary glands, especially the parotid glands camera.gif (between the ear and the jaw). Some people with mumps won't have gland swelling. They may feel like they have a bad cold or the flu instead.

Mumps usually goes away on its own in about 10 days. But in some cases, it can cause complications that affect the brain (meningitis), the testicles (orchitis), the ovaries (oophoritis), or the pancreas (pancreatitis).

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The mumps vaccine protects against the illness. This vaccine is part of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) and MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella [chickenpox]) vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots. Before the mumps vaccine existed, mumps was a common childhood disease in the United States and Canada.

What causes mumps?

Mumps is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes near you or shares food or drinks.

You can spread the virus 7 days before and for 9 days after symptoms start. You are most likely to spread the virus 1 to 2 days before and 5 days after symptoms start.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Swelling and pain in the jaw. One or both cheeks may look swollen.
  • Fever.
  • Headache, earache, sore throat, and pain when you swallow or open your mouth.
  • Pain when you eat sour foods or drink sour liquids, such as citrus fruit or juice.
  • Tiredness, with aching in the muscles and joints.
  • Poor appetite and vomiting.

It usually takes 2 to 3 weeks to get symptoms after you have been exposed to the virus. This is called the incubation period. Some people who are infected with the mumps virus don't have any symptoms.

If you have more serious symptoms, such as a stiff neck or a severe headache, painful testicles, or severe belly pain, call your doctor right away.

How is mumps diagnosed?

Mumps is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and a history of exposure to the virus. If needed, a blood test can be done to confirm that you have mumps and rule out other illnesses.

The mumps virus can be identified with a viral culture using a sample of urine, saliva, or cerebrospinal fluid. These tests are rarely done.

If you think that you or your child has mumps, be sure to call ahead and explain the symptoms before you go to a doctor's office. It's important to stay away from other people as much as you can so that you don't spread the disease.

How is it treated?

In most cases, people recover from mumps with rest and care at home. In complicated cases, a hospital stay may be required.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 08, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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