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mumps; parotid; gland; MMR; immunise; immunisation; vaccine; vaccination; immunize; immunization; virus; parotitis ;

Mumps is an infection which affects the glands that make saliva. These glands are on the cheeks near to the ears. With mumps, they can swell and be painful, and often people with mumps have a very bad headache for a day or so. Mumps does not usually cause any ongoing problems, but sometimes it can affect the testes of older boys (after puberty) or men.


What is mumps?

  • Mumps is an infection caused by a virus called a paramyxovirus.
  • It can cause swelling of one or both of the parotid glands. The parotid glands (which make saliva) are just in front of and below the ears. The mumps virus may also infect the other salivary glands which are lower, along the jaw.
  • Mumps can cause a severe headache and sometimes it may be difficult to be sure this is only' mumps, because the symptoms can be similar to meningitis.
  • Only 30% to 40% of people who have the infection will have swollen parotid glands.
  • Most people who get a mumps infection will not have any signs that they have the infection, while some will have 'cold'-like symptoms (often with a bad headache).
  • Mumps is now uncommon, since children are immunised against it, but before the days of immunisation, most people had mumps when they were children (most often between 5 and 9 years).
  • While it is rare for mumps infections to cause severe problems, there have been some deaths from mumps (in Australia there were ten deaths between 1978 and 1997, and in 2000 there were 2 deaths, both of men over 80 years old.)

How is mumps spread?

  • The infection is spread by droplets of infected saliva from the mouth and by sneezing and coughing.
  • Also, tissues used by a person with mumps can transfer the infection to another person if that person handles the used tissue and does not wash his hands after holding it.

How long does mumps take to develop?

  • Between 12 - 25 days after being in contact with someone who has mumps, a child will become unwell for one or two days before the swelling appears.

    How long are people infectious?

    • A person is infectious from about 6 days before becoming unwell, until about 9 days afterwards. If the swelling goes down before 9 days, the person will no longer be infectious.
    • Children or adults who are infectious should stay away from other people.
    • People who don't have any swellings can still pass the infection on.

    Signs and symptoms

    • Less than 50% of children with mumps become unwell.
    • Usually the first sign is feeling ill, with a fever, loss of appetite and headache.
    • After 1 or 2 days, there may be swelling of the salivary glands in front of, and just below the ear. These swollen glands are usually tender.
    • The headache of mumps often becomes more severe a couple of days after the swelling of the parotid glands, with the child being distressed by bright light, not willing to eat, and sometimes vomiting. Headaches due to mumps can occur even when there is no swelling of the parotid glands.
    • Other 'glands' which are often felt below the jaw and below the ear are quite different to the salivary glands. These other glands swell often when children have infections, such as ear infections, they are usually firm and feel round or oval. These are lymph nodes (or glands) which help fight infections.
    • The swollen salivary glands are higher on the face, soft and usually do not have a clear edge.
    • There are other salivary glands along and just below the jaw and these might also be swollen, but not hard.
    • Most children have swelling on both sides, but about 30% have swelling only on one side of the face.
    • The swelling usually goes down after 5 to 10 days.

    Health problems from mumps

    • Only a few children with mumps get any on-going problems from mumps, but adolescents and adults who get mumps have a higher risk of developing problems.
    • 15-35% of males who get mumps after puberty get a very swollen and sore testis (orchitis) usually only on one side. It is not likely that this will stop them from making sperm and having children even if both testes are affected, but this can occasionally happen. Orchitis usually starts 7 to 10 days after swelling of the glands in the face starts. The boy or man becomes unwell again, with a fever and painful swelling of usually one testis, which lasts for several days.
    • 5% of females who have mumps after puberty get the same sort of infection in the ovary (oophoritis), causing pain in the lower part of the tummy. This does not prevent the girl or woman from having children.
    • In 4% of cases the pancreas (another gland) is affected, but this does not seem to cause any problems.
    • Permanent hearing loss happens rarely.
    • Mumps illness may cause mumps meningitis, with severe headache and neck stiffness. If this happens the child or young person should be seen by a doctor urgently, but mumps meningitis does not require treatment and almost always goes away without leaving any problems.
    • There is no clear evidence that babies are harmed if the mother gets mumps during a pregnancy, but getting mumps in early pregnancy may possibly cause a miscarriage.

    What you can do

    • There is no specific treatment for mumps (no antibiotics for example).
    • Children or adults with mumps need to rest and may be much more comfortable in a darkened room while they have a headache.
    • Medication for pain (eg paracetamol or ibuprofen) may be useful for the headache, tenderness of the swollen glands and for pain if other glands are involved (see the topic 'Using paracetamol or ibuprofen')
    • Offer lots of drinks.
    • Offer different kinds of soft foods to see which the child feels is easiest to eat but if she doesn't eat much for a few days this will not cause any problems.
    • Contact the doctor if the child or young person has a bad headache, stiff neck or other problems that don't go away.
    • Protect other children by keeping your child at home until the swelling goes down, or for 9 days (which ever happens first).
    • The topic 'Feeling sick' has other ideas about caring for sick children.

    Protecting children and adults from mumps

    • Immunisation with MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccine) is recommended for children when they are 12 months old and again at 18 months. See the topic 'Immunisation'.
    • Immunisation is not usually done earlier because of the low risk of serious illness from mumps and because immunisation may not work as well if it is given during the first year of life.
    • It is advised that pregnant women do not have the vaccine during pregnancy.
    • People born in Australia since 1966 may not have had two doses of MMR vaccine, and those born before 1966 may not have had any MMR vaccine. If anyone has not had these vaccines, or does not know that they have had them, they should be immunised. It is safe to give the vaccines to people who have already had them or have had the illnesses, but are not sure whether they are protected.
    • It is very important that young adults who intend to go into health or teaching professions are fully immunised with MMR.
    • This immunisation is free in Australia.

    MMR vaccine: no links to other health problems

    • Expert opinion of researchers around the world is that there is no link between MMR immunisation and autism, autism spectrum disorders or bowel disease.


    Department of Health and Ageing, Australian Government: Australian Immunisation Handbook - 10th Edition, 2013:

    Raising Children Network (Australia) 

    SA Health: 'Mumps - symptoms, treatment and prevention

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    The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

    This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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