Mumps is a viral disease, caused by the myxovirus, which has plagued the human race for centuries.
Mumps is fairly contagious, but not as contagious as diseases like chickenpox.
Mumps usually spreads within saliva and infects various parts of the body, especially the parotid salivary glands. These glands produce saliva, and are located between the ear and jaw at the back of each cheek. For mumps sufferers, these glands swell and become painful to touch.
The other most common symptoms of mumps include headache, fever, and loss of appetite. These symptoms are not usually serious, but mumps can cause some serious complications.
Approximately 20-30% of infected people do not have any symptoms of mumps at all, and they are not aware that they even have the disease.
Mumps is transmitted by airborne means or through direct contact with infected droplets or saliva, which are ejected from the body during coughing and sneezing.
Mumps is caused by a virus, and like all viral diseases, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. A mumps infection (in the vast majority of cases) can simply be left to run its course, while the body’s defences fight off the disease. Taking paracetamol and drinking plenty of water are also beneficial.
Most people recover from mumps within 2-3 weeks.
Once you have had mumps, it is very rare that you develop the disease again, because of the immunity your body developed while fighting off the initial attack by the disease.
Various other infections may cause mumps-like symptoms (such as swollen salivary glands), and this may lead a parent to mistakenly believe that a child has had mumps more than once.
Until 1967, mumps was a common disease, but then a mumps vaccine was developed. Prior to the use of this vaccine, over 200,000 cases of mumps were reported each year in the United States. Since the release of the vaccine, less than 1,000 mumps cases occur each year, and mumps epidemics have become rare.
A mumps vaccine can be given, which protects only against mumps, or it is more common for the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to be given, as this immunizes the child against all 3 diseases. Usually the MMR vaccine is given to children at 12 to 15 months of age. A second dose of MMR is generally given at 4 to 6 years of age, but should be given no later than 11 to 12 years of age.
Mumps is an uncommon disease in infants and babies. The majority of mumps infections occur in children aged from 5 to 14. The proportion of young adults infected with mumps has been rising slowly over the previous 20 years.
Serious (but rare) complications can result from the disease, and medical treatment should be obtained if there is any sign of these occurring.