Also known as epidemic parotitis, mumps is caused by the Paramyxovirus. This is an infection of the salivary (parotid) glands found in the neck region behind the lower jaw and below the ear. The virus infects these glands and causes them to swell.
How is mumps spread?
The virus is spread through respiratory droplets. A person with mumps is contagious during the period between one day before the swelling begins and three days after the swelling goes away. The incubation period for this infection (the time between exposure and symptoms starting) is usually between fourteen and twenty-four days.
What are the symptoms of mumps?
The symptoms begin with pain in the neck and throat area and then the swelling becomes obvious, either on one or both sides of the neck. There can be some low to moderate fever, and the swelling goes away within a week or so. The diagnosis is made by a throat swab, a urine sample, and/or blood tests.
No specific treatment
There is no specific treatment for mumps and usually most cases resolve without a problem. However, there are some rare, yet potentially serious complications of mumps, including meningitis and, in older boys, infection of the testicles (orchitis), which can lead to future infertility. The best approach is ensuring that you and your child are fully immunized against mumps.
The mumps vaccine
The mumps vaccine is part of the routine childhood vaccine series. The current Canadian recommendation is that children aged 12 months to 17 years of age receive 2 doses of the mumps vaccine usually as part of a vaccine called MMR, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella(German measles). Persons born before 1970 are generally presumed to have acquired natural immunity to mumps from being infected in the past, and are considered protected or immune. Adults or students in secondary or post-secondary educational settings born in 1970 or later without proof of a prior mumps infection (usually a blood test), need to receive 2 doses.
Thanks to the vaccine, mumps cases are now relatively rare. However, from time to time, there are isolated outbreaks in areas where children have not been vaccinated or among young adults who have not received the recommended 2 doses of the vaccine and as a result, are not fully immunized. During a mumps outbreak, public health officials track the contacts and offer education and/or the mumps vaccine to potentially exposed persons whose immunizations are not up to date or are particularly susceptible due to an underlying illness or problems with their immune system.