What is Mumps?

By  , Expert Content
Jul 18, 2012

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Mumps is an infectious disease caused by a virus known as mumps virus. The disease can occur at any age but is most common in children aged 2 - 12 who have not received vaccine against the disease. The disease is more severe and the risk of complications is higher in adults.

What causes mumps?

Mumps is caused by infection with a virus. The average incubation period of mumps is about 16-18 days. Incubation period is defined as the time from initial infection (after being exposed to an infected person) to symptoms. This period can vary from 12-25 days.

The virus is transmitted from infected person to a healthy person by droplet (virus present in infected person's sneeze or cough). A person with mumps is infectious (i.e. can transmit infection to others) from 1-2 days before the onset of salivary gland swelling to about 5 days after the swelling appears. The infection usually occurs in late winter and spring.

Mumps virus affects the salivary glands. There are three main salivary gland but parotid salivary glands is the most affected. It is located in the cheek, near the jaw line, just below the ears on both the sides. Swelling of this salivary gland (parotid gland) is called parotitis.

Besides the salivary glands mumps can infect the following organs:

  • central nervous system (brain and/or tissue covering the brain and spinal cord)
  • pancreas
  • testes
  • ovary
  • breast.


Symptoms start about 16 to 18 days after getting infected with the virus in most people. However everyone infected with the virus does not develop symptoms. In early stages symptoms of mumps may include fever (usually moderately high), loss of appetite, sore throat, body pain and lethargy, and headache. But many people with mumps do not develop these early symptoms and may present with salivary gland swelling (the characteristic symptom of mumps). Salivary gland swelling may be the first symptom in many cases. The parotid salivary glands are affected most commonly.


In some cases mumps may affect other organs such as testes, pancreas, brain and/or tissue covering the brain and spinal cord, ovaries, breast besides salivary gland and cause complications. Some of the common complications of mumps include:

  • Inflammation (pain and swelling) of testes (orchitis)
  • Inflammation (pain and swelling) of the ovaries (oophoritis)
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Viral meningitis (inflammation of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord)
  • Deafness, usually permanent
  • Inflammation of pancreas (pancreatitis).

Risk of complications is higher in adults with the exception of deafness (this is more common in children).


Currently there are no anti-viral medications that can cure the infection. Treatment of mumps aims to relieve symptoms and includes self care and medications to relieve pain and fever. Self care at home includes drinking plenty of fluids, eating easy to chew foods, cold compresses on the gland and rest.



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