Mumps is a contagious viral infection that used to be common in children before the introduction of the MMR vaccine.
It’s most recognisable by the painful swellings at the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands), giving a person with mumps a distinctive "hamster face" appearance.
Other symptoms of mumps include headaches, joint pain and a high temperature, which may develop a few days before the swelling of the parotid glands.
When to see your GP
It's important to contact your GP if you suspect mumps so a diagnosis can be made. While mumps isn't usually serious, the condition has similar symptoms to more serious types of infection, such as glandular fever and tonsillitis.
Your GP can usually make a diagnosis after seeing and feeling the swelling, looking at the position of the tonsils in the mouth and checking the person's temperature to see if it's higher than normal.
Let your GP know in advance if you're coming to the surgery, so they can take any necessary precautions to prevent the spread of infection.
If your GP suspects mumps, they should notify your local health protection unit (HPU). The HPU will arrange for a sample of saliva to be tested to confirm or rule out the diagnosis.
How mumps is spread
Mumps is spread in the same way as colds and flu – through infected droplets of saliva that can be inhaled or picked up from surfaces and transferred into the mouth or nose.
A person is most contagious a few days before the symptoms develop and for a few days afterwards.
During this time, it's important to prevent the infection spreading to others, particularly teenagers and young adults who haven't been vaccinated.
If you have mumps, you can help prevent it spreading by:
- regularly washing your hands with soap
- using and disposing of tissues when you sneeze
- avoiding school or work for at least five days after your symptoms first develop
You can protect your child against mumps by making sure they're given the combined MMR vaccine (for mumps, measles and rubella).
The MMR vaccine is part of the routine NHS childhood immunisation schedule. Your child should be given one dose when they are around 12-13 months and a second booster dose before they start school. Once both doses are given, the vaccine provides 95% protection against mumps.
Treatment for mumps
There's currently no cure for mumps, but the infection should pass within one or two weeks.
Treatment is used to relieve symptoms and includes:
- getting plenty of bed rest and fluids
- using painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol – aspirin shouldn't be given to children under 16
- applying a warm or cool compress to the swollen glands to help relieve pain
Read more about treating mumps
Mumps usually passes without causing serious damage to a person's health. Serious complications are rare.
However, mumps can lead to viral meningitis if the virus moves into the outer layer of the brain. Other complications include swelling of the testicles in males or the ovaries in females (if the affected male or female has gone through puberty).
Read more about the complications of mumps
Who is affected
Most cases of mumps occur in young adults (usually born between 1980 and 1990) who didn’t receive the MMR vaccine as part of their childhood vaccination schedule or didn't have mumps as a child. There were 2,224 confirmed cases of mumps in England and Wales during 2014.
Once you've been infected by the mumps virus, you normally develop a life-long immunity to further infection.