A recent outbreak of mumps throughout the NHL has put the virus back in the spotlight. (image: PensTV)

The mumps is an infection of the salivary glands. The salivary glands produce saliva that aids in keeping your mouth lubricated, helps you swallow and digest food, and helps to clean and protect your mouth against bacteria. They are located on both sides of your face, and in and around your mouth and throat. There are the major salivary glands, the parotid, submandibular, and sublingual glands and there are the minor ones that are located in your lips, inner cheek area, and in other linings of your mouth and throat

The mumps is caused by the paramyxovirus. Before routine vaccinations became available, mumps was a very common illness found all over North America. It has become less common since the introduction of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.

How is mumps spread?

This very contagious infection is spread easily through direct contact with an infected person or through saliva and mucus. When an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes the droplets of saliva and mucus get expelled into the air, and are easily picked up by others around them. It can also spread through sharing utensils, or drinking glasses, kissing, or touching a surface someone who is infected has touched and then taking that same hand and touching your mouth or nose.

What does the mumps look like?

Once a child has become infected with the virus, it takes 14 to 25 days for symptoms to appear. The symptoms usually last about 7 to 10 days. Children are infectious, and can pass the virus on once swelling in their glands appears. Some children may show no signs of the infection. If symptoms do develop be sure to watch for:

• Painful and swollen salivary glands – this can be on one side or both sides and causes the cheeks to puff out (this is the most common sign of the mumps)
• Fever
• Headache
• Tiredness
• Muscle aches
• Loss of appetite
• Pain when chewing or swallowing

What about the vaccine?

The best protection from the mumps is ensuring your vaccinations are up to date. The MMR vaccine is given twice during childhood. The first dose is given between 12-15 months, and the second dose is given between 4-6 years old. An additional dose of the MMR vaccine may be given later in life to adults, especially if they are traveling outside of North America. Not all countries routinely vaccinate against the mumps like we do here in Canada. Health care professionals, university students and those who at risk during an outbreak may also receive an additional dose. (Click here for the immunization schedule)

Although the MMR vaccine is very effective in preventing the mumps, there is still a chance your child, or you, could get the mumps. Outbreaks of the mumps sometimes do occur, especially in areas where people are in close direct contact with one another, such as schools, dormitories, or camps.

How is mumps diagnosed?

When seeing your doctor or nurse practitioner they will examine your child looking for the above signs and symptoms. They will perform a physical exam and take a history including information about possible exposure to someone who is infected with the mumps. A diagnosis can be determined often just by a clinical exam. The clinical diagnosis can be confirmed by taking a swab of the saliva for testing to confirm the presence of the mumps virus. This test will tell the doctor or nurse practitioner whether or not the signs and symptoms present are due to the mumps virus or another bacteria or virus. This test usually takes a couple days before results are confirmed.

What to do if your child is infected with the mumps

Since the mumps virus is so contagious, if your child or you become infected it is best to avoid contact with others for at least 5 days after your notice swelling in the salivary glands. This will help reduce the spread of the infection to others.

Like most viral illness, the mumps cannot be treated with antibiotics. The best defense against the mumps is the MMR vaccine. As a parent you can help to manage your child’s symptoms and keep them comfortable. The following may be helpful for your child:

• Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to reduce the fever. Do not give your child aspirin.
• Keep your child well hydrated with water (juice may over stimulate the salivary glands causing more pain and discomfort)

To prevent the spread of the mumps it is best to:

• Cover your mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
• Practicing good hand hygiene
• Do not share drinks, utensils with others
• Keep areas clean, like toys, doorknobs, tables, etc.
• Minimize close contact with other who are infected or if you are infected

What are the complications of the mumps virus?

Although most children who develop the mumps fully recover, there are some complications associated with the infection, which include:

• Orchitis – Painful inflammation of the testicles in those who have already reached puberty. It can be present in one or both testicles.
• Encephalitis or Meningitis – Inflammation of the brain or surrounding structures.
• Oophoritis or Mastitis – Inflammation of the ovaries or breasts in those who have already reached puberty. Symptoms that may suggest this include lower abdominal pain.
• Deafness that may be temporary or permanent.
• Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas, a structure inside your abdomen. This may appear as sudden pain in the center of your belly, or diarrhea.

If you think your child may have the mumps, it is best to see your doctor or nurse practitioner.


– Dr. Christina Cesareo and Dr. G Paul Dempsey


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