Medical information for patients


Mumps is a virus infection which typically causes enlargement of the two salivary glands in the cheeks at the angle of the jaw. This gives an appearance rather like a hamster with food in its cheeks.


Sufferers often have a dry mouth and are feverish with headache and difficulty swallowing. Mumps slowly settles and does not usually cause lasting effects. Sometimes, if you catch it after puberty, mumps will cause swollen, tender, inflamed testicles and may later cause subfertility in a minority of those affected.

Mumps may also cause inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), sometimes lead to miscarriage and, very rarely, also inflammation of the central nervous system such as meningitis, encephalitis, or myelitis.

Table showing the relative risks of various complications of mumps
Complications Risk
Swollen, painful testicles 1 in 5 older males
Deafness (usually gets partly or completely better) 1 in 25
Pancreatitis 1 in 30
Meningitis / encephalitis 1 in 200 to 5000


Mumps is caused by a virus known as a myxovirus. It is transmitted mainly by infected saliva although the urine also contains virus particles (virions). The saliva is infectious for approximately six days prior to the onset of swelling of the salivary glands in the cheeks (the parotid glands). The individual may be infectious for up to two weeks after the onset of swelling of the glands, but the peak period of infectivity is from a day or two before the onset of the swelling until very shortly after the swelling begins.


Diagnosis is usually based on the swelling of the salivary glands in both cheeks (the parotid glands). Various laboratory tests may help with the diagnosis but are usually unnecessary.


Usually all that is required is treatment of the symptoms, with paracetamol, regular rinsing of the mouth, and plenty to drink. You should let your doctor know that the child has mumps, but unless unexpected problems arise, your doctor will not necessarily need to see your child.

If an adult develops mumps they should consult the doctor, especially if a male with swollen, painful testicles (orchitis). In these cases cool compresses can be helpful.


A vaccine for mumps exists, but there is now a vaccine, which, in the UK, is given at 12 to 15 months, along with vaccines for Measles and German measles. A booster is given before starting school. This vaccine is known as MMR.

Actually having the disease confers lifelong immunity, and the vaccine is supposed to have a similar effect. If the worldwide uptake of any vaccine is high enough, the actual disease can be eradicated, as was achieved with smallpox.

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