Mumps is a contagious viral infection. It used to be common in children before the introduction of the mumps, measles, rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Mumps is most recognisable by the painful swellings in the side of the face under the ears. These are called the parotid glands. The swelling gives a person with mumps a distinctive "hamster face" appearance.
Other symptoms of mumps include headaches, joint pain and a high temperature. These may develop a few days before the swelling of the parotid glands.
When to see a GP
It's important to contact a GP if you suspect mumps so a diagnosis can be made.
Mumps is not usually serious. But the condition has similar symptoms to more serious types of infection, such as glandular fever and tonsillitis.
Your GP can usually make a diagnosis after seeing and feeling the swelling. They will also look at your tonsils in the mouth and check your temperature to see if it's higher than normal.
Let your GP know in advance if you're coming to the surgery. This is so they can take any necessary precautions to prevent the spread of infection.
How mumps is spread
Mumps is spread in the same way as colds and flu: through infected droplets of saliva. These droplets can be inhaled or picked up from surfaces and transferred into the mouth or nose.
A person is most contagious a few days before the symptoms develop and for a few days afterwards.
It's important to prevent the infection spreading to others, especially people who have not been vaccinated.
If you have mumps, you can help prevent it from spreading by:
- regularly washing your hands with soap
- using and disposing of tissues when you sneeze
- avoiding school or work for at least 5 days after your symptoms first develop
You can protect your child against mumps. Make sure they're given the combined MMR vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella.
The MMR vaccine is part of the routine HSE childhood immunisation schedule.
Children should get a second dose at 4-5 years of age. This is usually given at school by the HSE’s school immunisation teams but in some areas, it is given by the child’s GP.
Once both doses are given, the vaccine provides 95% protection against mumps.
There's currently no cure for mumps, but the infection should pass within 1 or 2 weeks.
Treatment is used to relieve symptoms and includes:
- getting plenty of bed rest and fluids
- using painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol - aspirin should not be given to children under 16
- applying a warm or cool compress to the swollen glands to help relieve pain
Mumps usually passes without causing serious damage to a person's health. Serious complications are rare.
But mumps can lead to viral meningitis if the virus moves into the outer layer of the brain.
Other complications include swelling of the testicles or ovaries (if the affected person has gone through puberty).
Most cases of mumps occur in young adults (usually born between 1980 and 1990) who did not receive the MMR vaccine as part of their childhood vaccination schedule or did not have mumps as a child.
Once you have been infected by the mumps virus, you normally develop immunity to further infection.