Mumps is a contagious viral infection that is most common in children between 5 and 15 years of age. These days it’s rarely seen because of effective immunisation.
Mumps is most recognisable by the painful swellings located at the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands), giving a person with mumps a distinctive 'hamster face' appearance.
What causes mumps?
Mumps is caused by the mumps virus, which belongs to a family of viruses known as 'paramyxoviruses'. It's spread by close contact or by coughing and sneezing. Paramyxoviruses are a common source of infection, particularly in children.
When you get mumps, the virus moves from your respiratory tract (your nose, mouth and throat) into your parotid glands (the glands that produce saliva), where it begins to reproduce. This causes inflammation and swelling of the glands.
The virus can less commonly also enter your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is the fluid that surrounds and protects your brain and spine. Once the virus has entered the CSF, it can spread to other parts of your body, such as your brain, pancreas, testes (in boys and men) and ovaries (in girls and women).
Please see your doctor if symptoms persist or you are concerned.
Should I keep my child home from school?
Here’s a list of common childhood illnesses, including mumps, and their recommended exclusion periods.
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Last reviewed: August 2017