What Are the Mumps?

Ask any adult of a certain age if they know what mumps are and you might get something like this in response:

“Sure, yeah… had them as a kid. Didn’t I? Swollen throat, right? Didn’t I have mumps? Better call Mom and ask her…”

But really, how many of us know what mumps are?

What Are Mumps?

It’s an infection caused by a virus that’s easily spread through saliva and mucus. It usually happens in kids who haven’t been immunized.

Mumps can affect any part of the body, but it mostly affects saliva-making glands below and in front of the ears (called parotid glands). Those glands can swell if infected. In fact, puffy cheeks and a swollen jaw are the telltale signs of the virus.

Mumps used to be common. But since the introduction of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in 1967, it’s been almost fully wiped out.

The CDC recommends children get two doses of the vaccine. They should get the first at 12 to 15 months old and the second between 4 and 6 years. Teens and adults should make sure their MMR vaccinations are up to date.

If you haven’t been vaccinated, you can get mumps. Some people have it without knowing it. Most recover completely in a few weeks.

How Does It Spread?

Through saliva or mucus. Infected people can spread it to others by:

  • Coughing, sneezing, or talking
  • Sharing cups and utensils with others
  • Not properly washing their hands and touching items that other people then touch

If you get mumps, there’s no treatment. That’s because antibiotics don’t work on a virus. You have to simply let it run its course. But mumps can also cause a number of problems, including inflammation of the brain, ovaries, breast tissue, and testicles in males who’ve already gone through puberty.

If you think you have mumps or have been around someone who has, see your doctor to get tested right away.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on December 14, 2018



Cleveland Clinic: “Mumps.”

Mayo Clinic: “Mumps.”

CDC: “Mumps.”

American Medical Association: “AMA Supports Tighter Limitations on Immunization Opt Outs.”

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