Short answer: You bet they can.
We most often think about the mumps among children -- and for good reason, since they're usually the ones who get it.
But adults can and do get the virus, which usually isn’t serious but is easily spread through saliva and mucus. It can be spread just through talking, sharing utensils, and coughing, for instance. There’s no cure, and outbreaks are possible.
How Does It Happen?
Being in a crowded environment with someone who has the virus can lead to an outbreak, so consider these kinds of environments where adults share space:
- Athletic teams
- College dorms
You can also spread mumps by taking part in certain adult-type behaviors, like:
- Using another person’s lipstick
- Sharing cigarettes
What About Symptoms?
Mumps cases are rare since a mumps vaccine became commonly used decades ago. But it’s still possible to catch.
Symptoms can be so mild you might not know you’re infected. And most people who are infected don’t get the swollen saliva glands we remember from childhood. You could have a fever, headache, body aches, and loss of appetite. If you do show symptoms, they may not appear for 2 to 3 weeks after you’re infected.
If you think you or someone else has the mumps, call your doctor for an appointment. And remember, it’s contagious! Avoid close contact with other people until at least 5 days after your glands first begin to swell.
Your doctor can diagnose you with a simple test. Most people recover fully after a few weeks.
To ease symptoms while you wait, try these simple home remedies:
- Use cold compresses.
- Take over-the-counter non-aspirin products like Advil and Tylenol.
- Don’t give aspirin to kids who have a virus. It’s thought to cause Reye’s Syndrome, which can cause live failure, brain swelling and death.
- Get plenty of rest.
Rarely, adults who have mumps might experience some hearing loss and decreased fertility. They sometimes have other symptoms that can include swelling of certain body parts, such as:
But I Was Vaccinated Against Mumps as a Child
If so, you’re probably immune from it now.
Young children should get two doses of the vaccine before they reach school age. The second shot wasn’t recommended until around 1990, though, so some young adults might not have received it.
In an outbreak, just one dose might not be enough to keep you safe, so if you only received a single dose, talk to your doctor about getting another. Here are some other situations in which you might need the vaccine:
- You’re a woman of childbearing age who is not pregnant.
- You’re in college.
- You work in a hospital or school.
- You want to travel overseas or go on a cruise.
Talk to your doctor if you think you might be at risk.