Mumps is a viral illness that causes fever and swollen salivary glands. Serious and potentially lethal complications include inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or heart muscle (myocarditis). The disease is spread from person to person and is as contagious as the flu (influenza).
Mumps is uncommon in developed countries, including Australia, because of the widespread use of the mumps vaccine. Outbreaks still occur, so it is important to continue vaccinating children.
Symptoms of mumps
Signs and symptoms of mumps may include:
- weight loss
- swollen parotid gland (the salivary gland located just in front of the ear) on one or both sides of the face
- painful chewing
- painful swallowing.
Complications of mumps
Inflammation caused by mumps may spread to other areas of the body. Possible complications of mumps can include:
- mastitis – breast inflammation
- orchitis (or orchiditis) – testicle inflammation
- oophoritis – ovary inflammation
- meningitis – inflammation of the membranes called ‘meninges’ surrounding the brain and spinal cord
- encephalitis – brain inflammation
- myocarditis – heart muscle inflammation
- pancreatitis – pancreas inflammation
- hepatitis – liver inflammation
- thyroiditis – thyroid inflammation
- miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy
- nerve deafness – usually in both ears.
Causes of mumps
Mumps is most commonly spread when someone ingests (swallows) or inhales the cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person. The virus is also carried in urine. Symptoms occur between 14 and 25 days following infection.
One person in three who contracts mumps does not have any symptoms and doesn’t realise they are sick, but they are still contagious and may infect many other people. A healthy person without symptoms who spreads an infectious disease is called a ‘carrier’.
People who are caring for someone with mumps should practise strict hygiene. For example, you should wash your hands frequently, particularly before handling, preparing or eating food and after visiting the toilet or changing a nappy. Don’t share food or drink utensils. Encourage the sick person to cough or sneeze into a tissue.
Mumps is uncommon in Australia because of our immunisation programs, but cases still occur. Anyone who hasn’t been immunised is at high risk of catching mumps, particularly if they travel to countries where immunisation programs aren’t widespread.
Diagnosis of mumps
Methods used to diagnose mumps may include:
- medical history, including immunisation status
- physical examination
- travel history
- blood test.
Treatment for mumps
No specific medical treatment for mumps exists. Antibiotics don’t work because the illness is viral. Treatment aims to ease symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. Options may include:
- bed rest
- plenty of fluids
- paracetamol to reduce pain and fever
- cold compresses held against the swollen parotid glands
- soft and easy to swallow foods, such as soup, porridge or pureed vegetables
- isolation, to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.
A case of mumps without complications usually gets better within about two weeks. See your doctor if the sick person:
- complains of pain anywhere other than the face, as this may be a sign of inflammation in another organ
- has a high fever
- appears to be getting sicker.
Immunisation against mumps
Immunisation is the best way to prevent mumps and potential serious complications. This can be achieved with two types of combined vaccine. In the first type, the mumps vaccine is combined with the measles and rubella (German measles) vaccines and is commonly known as the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine.
In the second type (available from July 2013), the mumps vaccine is combined with measles, rubella and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines and is commonly known as MMRV.
Protection against mumps is available under the National Immunisation Program Schedule. In Victoria, immunisation against mumps is free of charge for:
- Children at 12 months – the first dose of mumps vaccine is given as the MMR combination vaccine.
- Children at 18 months of age – the second dose of mumps vaccine is given as the MMRV combination vaccine.
- Children at four years of age – the second dose of mumps vaccine can be given as the MMR vaccine, if the child was not given the second dose (in MMRV) at 18 months of age.
- Children up to and including nine years – catch-up immunisations are available for children who have not been fully vaccinated.
- Women planning pregnancy or after the birth of their child – two doses of MMR are available for women who have low immunity or no immunity to rubella.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, refugees and asylum seekers eight years and over – catch-up immunisations are available for people who have not been fully vaccinated.
Immunisation is also recommended for adults born during or since 1966, unless you have evidence of having received two doses of MMR. If you have not received the vaccine, speak to your doctor about catch-up doses. The MMRV vaccine is not recommended for people aged 14 years and over.
People who should not be immunised against mumps
Not everyone should have the mumps vaccine. A person with an impaired immune system should not be immunised.
Some of the possible causes of impaired immunity may include:
- infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or the presence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) from an HIV infection
- taking certain medications, such as high-dose corticosteroids
- receiving immunosuppressive treatment, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy
- having some types of cancer, such as Hodgkin’s disease or leukaemia
- having an immune deficiency with extremely low levels of antibodies (hypogammaglobulinaemia, multiple myeloma or chronic lymphoblastic leukaemia).
If you have an impaired immune system, speak with your doctor about what options might be available.
Pregnancy and mumps immunisation
You should not be given the MMR vaccine if you are already pregnant. Pregnancy should also be avoided for 28 days after the immunisation.
The MMRV vaccine is not recommended for people 14 years and over.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Emergency department of your nearest hospital
- Local government immunisation service
- Maternal and Child Health Line (24 hours) Tel. 132 229
- NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 60 60 24 – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- Immunisation Program, Department of Health, Victorian Government Tel. 1300 882 008
- National Immunisation Information Line Tel. 1800 671 811
Things to remember
- Mumps is a viral illness that causes fever and swollen salivary glands.
- Mumps is uncommon in developed countries, including Australia, due to the widespread use of mumps vaccines, which are available for free through the National Immunisation Program.
- Mumps is contagious, so people caring for someone with mumps should practise strict hygiene. For example, wash hands frequently, particularly before handling, preparing or eating food.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Department of Health and Human Services - RHP&R - Health Protection - Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit
Page content currently being reviewed.
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.