Mumps Symptoms: What To Know

The most well-known symptom of mumps is swelling of the cheeks and jaw—but it's not the only sign to watch for.

Mumps is a contagious infection. In particular, "[m]umps is a respiratory virus that spreads through contact with saliva or respiratory secretions," Amesh Adalja, MD, emergency medicine and infectious disease doctor who is a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told Health. This means that you can get mumps if you come in contact with the saliva or mucus of an infected person—usually through coughing and sneezing.

It was once pretty common in the past until the MMR vaccine (which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella) became a standard childhood vaccination in the U.S. in 1967. Nevertheless, it's still possible to get mumps, especially if you live or work in an environment where close contact with other people happens frequently or is unavoidable (like in schools).

"Large outbreaks at college campuses…suggest that vaccine-induced immunity wanes with age," Dr. Adalja said. "Mumps is…more common in young adults (which is also the result of exposure pressure in crowded dormitory environments)."

So how would you be able to tell if you have mumps? Here's what you should know.

What Are the Symptoms?

It's a distinctive infection based on the way it affects your face. "Mumps is characterized by swelling of the parotid salivary glands, which give a patient with mumps a very specific appearance in which their face is swollen," Dr. Adalja said.

According to MedlinePlus, other common signs of mumps include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • face pain
  • loss of appetite

The symptoms of mumps in adults are basically the same as those in teens and children. It's also very possible to not experience any mumps symptoms, or very mild ones, while infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Further, mumps symptoms tend to appear a couple of weeks after exposure to the virus—anywhere from 12 to 25 days, per the CDC.

What Are Some Rare Signs?

"In up to 10% of mumps cases in males, swelling of the testes (orchitis) can occur," Dr. Adalja said. Women with mumps may experience swelling of the ovaries (oophoritis), although it's also uncommon. "Other rare mumps complications can include pancreatitis, meningitis, and encephalitis," Dr. Adalja added.

Both meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) are very concerning. "If a person develops a stiff neck, trouble concentrating or thinking, severe headaches, or seizures, a dangerous complication could be present," Dr. Adalja said.

What To Do if You Suspect You Have Mumps

If you notice any mumps symptoms in yourself or your family, contact a healthcare provider immediately. Before going to the hospital or doctor's office, it's important that you disclose in advance that you suspect mumps so that preparations can be made to prevent the spread of the infection to other people during your visit.

There's no particular medication for the mumps virus. Instead, treatment is focused on alleviating mumps symptoms until the infection runs its course—which usually happens within a few weeks, according to the CDC.

Finally, you'll also need to avoid contact with others (e.g., have children with mumps stay home from school). "[A]n infected person can spread mumps from a few days before their salivary glands begin to swell to up to five days after the swelling begins," as stated by the CDC.

How To Prevent Mumps

The CDC has indicated that the safest, most effective way to prevent mumps is to get vaccinated against it. (Of note, even if you have been vaccinated, you can still pass mumps to others if you have the infection.)

If you didn't already receive the standard two doses of the MMR vaccine as a child, you should receive at least one dose of the vaccine. Additionally, your healthcare provider may recommend that you receive two doses if you live or work in environments like colleges where close contact is inevitable. In outbreak settings, a third dose is often administered, according to the CDC.

Ultimately, you may not come into contact with the mumps infection, but it's best to be prepared if you do.

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