The Mumps – Symptoms and Treatment


The mumps, also known as ‘epidemic parotitis’, is a viral disease that causes a distinctive swelling around the mouth and jaw which gives the condition its name. It was a common disease in children in the Western world until a vaccination was introduced at which time it became less of a significant problem. Today it is still a serious problem in third world countries, and can still on occasion affect Western children and adults.


Mumps is a highly contagious disease which spreads via contact with saliva and other respiratory secretions during sneezing or coughing. It may also spread by food and drink and the virus can survive on surfaces. When an individual is infected with mumps they will be infectious for around six days before the symptoms make themselves known, and potentially for nine days after they have started. This can make it difficult to prevent contamination and it’s important for an incubation of around 20 days to be brought into effect.

Note that it is still possible to develop mumps depending on the strain of the vaccine given (they vary in efficacy) – this is normally around 80% but varies. The Jeryl Lynn strain is the type used in most Western countries but is not as effective in epidemic situations. The Leningrad-Zagreb strain is that being introduced into developing countries, and demonstrates superior efficacy in that context.


The main symptom as mentioned is the swelling of the salivary glands which results in the pronounced lump around the jaw. In men painful testicular swelling can also occur (orchitis) and rashes are relatively common too. The symptoms are more severe in children, but there is risk of infertility in adult and teenage men. Meanwhile headaches, pancreatitis, dry mouth, loss of voice, sore face, fevers and lethargy are also common.


Usually the condition is self-limiting meaning that no treatment is necessary. However it is possible to treat the symptoms for the purpose of general comfort which can be accomplished via warm/cold compress on the swollen areas, or through the use of analgesics for pain relief. Aspirin is not recommended due to a potential link to Reye’s syndrome. Gargling saline solution, eating soft foods and drinking lots of water may also help.

The prognosis for the condition is good and the outcome is good in the vast majority of cases. However complications can occur if the infection spreads to other organs or the brain, and there is a 30% chance of infection of the testes. In other cases meningitis or inflammation of the ovaries may occur (in around 5% of cases) and it’s important to monitor for these and to be treated promptly.

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