Mumps – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


Mumps is a disease caused by the virus, Mumps rubulavirus. The first symptoms of the condition include muscle pain, fever, poor appetite, headache, and a feeling of being unwell.

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These symptoms are then followed by painful swelling in the salivary glands. These symptoms usually occur between 16 to 18 days after being exposed to the virus and are resolved after 7 to 10 days. The symptoms are more severe in adults than in children.

Mumps is a highly infectious disease that spreads quickly between people living in the same vicinity. The virus is from direct physical contact and respiratory droplets of an infected person.

The condition is not transmitted amongst animals; only humans are capable of contracting the disease. The contagious stage of the illness begins 7 days after the onset of the inflammation of the salivary gland.

People with mumps are usually granted a lifetime immunity after the disease has run its course. However, there is a risk of reinfection, but the symptoms are mild compared to the initial infection.

Like all viral diseases, mumps has no cure. It can, however, be prevented by vaccination. Mumps vaccines are administered in conjunction with other vaccines for diseases such as measles and rubella.

Pain relievers like paracetamol are used to subside the painful symptoms of the disease. Intravenous immunoglobulin may also be administered in cases of complications that arise due to the disease. According to a report from the World Health Organization (WHO), about one in 10,000 who are infected with the virus die.

0.1 to 1.0% of the population is affected by the disease annually in the absence of immunization. Mumps is a common disease in the developing world where the vaccination from the disease is less ubiquitous.

Outbreaks of the disease have been known to occur within vaccinated populations. Before the advent of the mumps vaccine, it was a common childhood disease that affected mostly children between 5 to 9 years old. People in their early 20s can also be affected within immunized populations.

Complications caused by mumps may include pancreatitis, inflammation of the heart, meningitis, testicular inflammation, and permanent deafness Women may also develop swelling in the ovaries.

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Causes of Mumps


The virus, Mumps rubulavirus, causes mumps. It can be transmitted by respiratory secretions such as saliva from a person who has already been affected by the disease.

Once infected, the virus moves from the respiratory tract to the salivary glands and then multiplies, causing the glands to swell. The virus can be spread via the following means;

  • Sneezing or coughing.
  • Kissing.
  • Sharing cutlery and plates with an infected person.
  • Sharing food and drink with an infected person

People with the mumps virus are infectious for about 15 days (6 days before the symptoms become visible, and up to 9 days after they start).

Signs and Symptoms

Initial symptoms of the disease include;

  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • A general feeling of being unwell

Over days, the typical symptoms of mumps will begin to appear. The major sign of the disease is painful and swollen parotid glands. The parotid glands are one of three sets of salivary glands in the mouth. This swelling causes the infected person’s cheeks to puff out.

Other symptoms of mumps can include;

  • Pain while swallowing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Cottonmouth
  • Pain in the swollen side of the face
  • Pain in the joints

Mumps is a rare condition in adults, but when it does occur, the symptoms are usually more severe, and the risk of developing complications is higher.


A diagnosis of mumps would be dependent on whether or not there is an outbreak of the disease. In the event of an epidemic, diagnosis can be determined by recent exposure to the virus.

However, if there is no outbreak of the disease, other infections with similar symptoms to mumps such as HIV, influenza, and coxsackievirus may be considered. Other conditions, such as aseptic meningitis, also have identical symptoms to mumps.

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Diagnosis would require a physical examination, and this can be confirmed by the presence of swollen glands, However, in the event that there is an uncertainty in the cause of the disease, a blood or saliva test may be carried out.

Treatment of Mumps

As with all viral diseases, mumps does not respond to antibiotics or other medications. However, the symptoms can be treated to relieve the pain of the illness. Treatment options include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as paracetamol, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen to reduce fever and headache.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids to avoid being dehydrated due to fever.
  • Eating diets made of soup, yogurt, and other foods that aren’t hard to chew as chewing may be difficult and painful when glands are swollen
  • Avoid acidic food and drinks that may cause more pain in the salivary glands
  • Soothe swollen glands by applying packs of ice of the surface area


The most common means by which mumps can be prevented by vaccination. American microbiologist Maurice Hillerman invented the vaccine. It may be administered separately or as part of the MMR or MMRV vaccine. A

ccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), the use of mumps vaccine is highly recommended.


Although rare, complications due to mumps can have dire consequences if left untreated. Although the disease affects mostly the parotid gland, it can cause inflammation in other areas of the body such as the brain, spinal cord, and the reproductive organs.

Orchitis is an example of a disease that can be caused by mumps. It is an inflammation of the testicles and can be managed by placing cold packs on the testicles several times a day. Painkillers are also recommended. Orchitis can cause infertility in rare cases.

The ovaries in females may also experience swelling, although it is not painful and does not affect the woman’s eggs. However, there is a high risk of miscarriage if a woman contracts mumps while pregnant.

Mumps may lead to encephalitis and meningitis; two potentially life-threatening conditions, if left untreated, may cause death. Meningitis is a bacterial or viral infection that causes swelling of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord.

While encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain. Both diseases could cause one to experience seizures, loss of consciousness, or severe headaches.

Pancreatitis, another complication that is caused by mumps, is an inflammation of the pancreas, an organ in the abdominal cavity. Symptoms of pancreatitis include abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

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Victor Anunobi
Victor Anunobi is an environmentalist, writer and movie enthusiast living in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. He enjoys long walks, food and alternative music.