Mumps

Mumps is a viral illness that infects the salivary glands. These glands produce saliva in the mouth. The main salivary gland (parotid gland) is located at the angle of the jaw, just below the ear, on each side of the face. During a mumps infection, these glands become swollen and tender. The ears may hurt although there is no ear infection. There may also be a rash.

Mumps most often occurs in children 5 to 14 years. It can also affect adolescents, young adults, and adults. Mumps causes a low-grade fever, headache, and loss of appetite. Usually, both parotid glands swell and cause puffy cheeks. Swelling and pain in these glands increases over 1 to 3 days. It may hurt to swallow, talk, chew, or drink acidic juices. (Acid foods stimulate the parotid gland to produce saliva).

In rare cases, mumps can involve the brain (causing encephalitis) and the lining of the spinal cord (causing meningitis). Adolescents and young men with a case of mumps may develop orchitis, a painful swelling of the testicles. Young women may develop mumps infection in the ovary. This causes pain in the abdomen.

A child or adult with mumps is contagious 2 days before symptoms begin until 5 days after the symptoms disappear. The virus spreads through the air by coughing and sneezing, or by direct contact (touching the sick person and then touching your own eyes, nose, or mouth). It takes about 2 to 3 weeks to develop the infection after an exposure. It takes 10 to 12 days to recover.

Treatment is aimed at symptom relief only. Since a virus causes mumps, it can't be treated with antibiotics.

Mumps is best prevented by getting the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine as advised.

Home care

To treat mumps symptoms:

  • Hot or cold packs applied to the cheeks may give relief. Apply an ice pack (ice cubes in a plastic bag, wrapped in a towel) over the swollen area for 20 minutes every 1 to 2 hours as needed. When using heat, apply a towel soaked in warm water and placed inside a plastic bag. Special hot-cold gel packs can be frozen or warmed in a microwave. Always wrap the packs in a thin cloth to protect the skin.

  • Have the child drink plenty of fluids. Give soft foods that don't need much chewing. Don't drink acidic fruit juices (orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemonade).

  • Give over-the-counter medicine as directed to control pain and fever unless another medicine was prescribed. Talk with the provider before using these medicines if the person has chronic liver or kidney disease or has ever had a stomach ulcer or digestive bleeding. Never give aspirin to anyone younger than 18 who is ill with a fever. It may cause severe liver damage.

  • For testicle pain, support from snug briefs and wrapped ice packs may help.

Returning to work or school:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children stay out of school or child care until 9 days after the gland swelling began.

  • A teen or adult with mumps should not go back to school or work for 5 days after the gland swelling began. 

Follow-up care

Follow up with the healthcare provider as advised.

Any person who comes in contact with the infected person who has not received the MMR vaccine should talk with their healthcare provider right away about vaccination.

Mumps increases the risk of miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy. Therefore, a pregnant woman who has been exposed to mumps should contact her healthcare provider right away.

When to seek medical advice

Call the healthcare provider if any of the following occur:

  • In adults, fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Fever in children (see Fever and children, below)

  • Stiff neck, severe headache, convulsions (seizures), extreme drowsiness, or changes in alertness.

  • Testicle pain

  • Nausea, vomiting, or belly pain

  • Hearing loss in one or both ears

  • Symptoms get worse or your child has new symptoms

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until they are at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell them which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4° (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

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