Mumps

Learn more about mumps and what you can do to protect yourself.

What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious disease that is caused by a virus. It typically starts with a few days of fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Then most people will have swelling of their salivary glands. This is what causes the puffy cheeks and a tender, swollen jaw.

 

What are the signs and symptoms?

Mumps is best known for the puffy cheeks and tender, swollen jaw that it causes (see picture below). This is a result of swollen salivary glands under the ears on one or both sides, often referred to as parotitis. See the diagram below to help locate the major salivary glands. 

Other symptoms that might begin a few days before parotitis include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite

Some people who get mumps have very mild symptoms (like a cold), or no symptoms at all and may not know they have the disease. In rare cases, mumps can cause more severe complications. Most people with mumps recover completely within two weeks.

 

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How long does it take to show signs of mumps after being exposed?

The incubation period of mumps is usually 16–18 days, but can range from 12–25 days.

 

How long is a person with mumps contagious?

People with mumps are usually considered most infectious from a few days before until 5 days after the onset of parotitis. Therefore, CDC recommends isolating mumps patients for 5 days after their glands begin to swell.

 

How does mumps spread?

Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It spreads through direct contact with saliva or respiratory droplets from the mouth, nose, or throat. An infected person can spread the virus by

  • coughing, sneezing, or talking
  • sharing items that may have saliva on them, such as water bottles or cups
  • participating in close-contact activities with others, such as playing sports, dancing, or kissing
  • touching objects or surfaces with unwashed hands that are then touched by others

The risk of spreading the virus increases the longer and the closer the contact a person has with someone who has mumps. Therefore, there is a greater risk with prolonged, close contact. Casual contact with someone who has mumps is not considered high risk. 

 

If someone shows symptoms, how do they treat the mumps?

Management for mumps is similar to that of flu. There is no treatment, only relief of symptoms. Take Motrin or Tylenol for fever and swelling, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of rest. One of the most important steps you can take if you experience symptoms is to self-isolate, avoid travel and limit contact with others for five days from the onset of symptoms. For healthy people, there is very little risk of serious complications from the mumps. 

 

How can I prevent mumps?

If you are sick with mumps:

When you have mumps, you should seek care from a healthcare provider. The most important thing you should do is self-isolate. You should avoid contact with other people until five days after your salivary glands begin to swell because you are contagious during this time. You should not go to work, school, or any social events. You should stay home when you are sick with mumps and limit contact with the people you live with; for example, sleep in a separate room by yourself if you can. Staying home while sick with mumps is an important way to avoid spreading the virus to other people. People who are infected with mumps don’t get sick right away—it can take 2 to 4 weeks for them to show signs of infection. You should also cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and put your used tissue in the trash can. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.

To prevent getting mumps:

  • The MMR vaccine is the best way to prevent the mumps
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. When unable to wash with soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 
  • Avoid close contact with individuals who present symptoms
  • Avoid sharing objects that might have saliva on them, like water bottles, cups, or food
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, tables, counters

 

I've already received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. Am I still at risk of getting mumps? 

The MMR vaccine prevents most, but not all, cases of mumps and complications caused by the disease. People who have received two doses of the MMR vaccine are about nine times less likely to get mumps than unvaccinated people who have the same exposure to mumps virus. However, some people who receive two doses of MMR can still get mumps, especially if they have prolonged, close contact with someone who has the disease. If a vaccinated person does get mumps, they will likely have less severe illness than an unvaccinated person.

 

Do I need to get a 3rd dose of the MMR vaccine? 

A 3rd MMR vaccination is recommended for students who are directly exposed to someone infected with mumps. If you have been exposed to saliva of a student diagnosed with mumps or are in prolonged contact such as sleeping in the same room with the infected student, you are considered at high risk and a 3rd MMR vaccination is recommended.

Additionally, anyone who is immunocompromised and is in the area of an outbreak may be advised by their medical provider to get a 3rd MMR even if they do not know of any direct contact with a person infected with mumps.

 

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