Mumps (epidemic parotitis) is a viral infection which is highly contagious. It is less common now than in the past because the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) is now commonly administered to children. Before this vaccine existed, contracting mumps was a very common part of childhood. Now, because of the vaccine, mumps are rare in North America.
A person contracts mumps from being exposed to the cough or sneeze of an infected person or by sharing food and drink with an infected person. Since mumps spreads through droplets of saliva from the mouth, a person can get it from being too close to an infected person who is talking. It also spreads when an individual touches a surface that is harbouring the virus then touches their eyes, mouth, or nose. A person is most contagious from the time they are infected to roughly five days after they start to show swelling of the glands or other symptoms, which are listed below.
The mumps virus is not as contagious as measles or chicken pox. However, sometimes the virus can spread rapidly because an infected person can transmit the disease before they even know they have it. There is an incubation period of up to three weeks where an infected person does not show symptoms of mumps but is still able to spread it. Because the symptoms of mumps are varied and nonspecific it can take a while for an individual to be properly diagnosed, which can lead to the rapid spread of the virus.
Mumps Virus Symptoms
The Mumps virus generally causes swelling of both the parotid and salivary glands, which are behind the jaw and ears. While these are the most common symptoms, not everyone with mumps will exhibit them. Some people just feel as if they have a severe cold or case of the flu. Other symptoms include lack of appetite, vomiting, fatigue, aches, pain when eating or drinking, headaches, and fever.
Mumps Virus Treatment
There is no treatment for mumps beyond getting rest and receiving supportive care. It is very important for a person to avoid contact with others once he or she realizes they are infected. People with mumps should be isolated for at least five days after their glands begin to swell. If a person seeks to be admitted to a hospital for mumps, then they should make sure that they phone the hospital before going in so that they do not infect others while waiting in an emergency room or other patient area.
Mumps generally goes away on its own within ten days. If mumps does not go away on its own, it can lead to much more serious health problems. It can lead to meningitis, orchitis in the testicles, oophoritis in the ovaries or pancreatitis in the pancreas. Mumps can lead to miscarriage when a woman contracts the virus while pregnant, but they do not cause birth defects. Mumps is generally much more severe in adults than in children.
The best immunization option is to get the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine as a child. Adults can also get the vaccine. Some adults who are at higher risk for contracting the mumps virus should get it twice. This includes healthcare workers, adults who travel internationally and adults who attend or work at post-secondary educational facilities. It is extremely important for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, since they are in a position to both contract and spread the infection. In the United States, documentation of having had the vaccine is often required for healthcare workers.
Once a person has had the mumps, they are considered immune. There have been some rare cases of people getting mumps more than once, however. Anyone who has not had the vaccine or had mumps previously can get mumps.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 229 cases of mumps were reported in the United states in 2012. This is far lower than the over 200,000 cases of mumps estimated to have been contracted in the United States in 1964, although there have been isolated outbreaks of mumps in 2011-2013 and in 2009-2010.
image provided by Content Providers: CDC/ Dr. F. A. Murphy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons