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9-minute read

What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious viral infection that is most common in children aged between 5 and 15 years. It is rarely seen these days because of the success of immunisation programs.

While mumps can affect people of any age, you are most at risk if you have not had the mumps vaccination.

What are the symptoms of mumps?

The symptoms of mumps usually develop 14 to 25 days after a person is infected with the virus.

The most common symptoms are swelling of the parotid glands, a pair of glands responsible for producing saliva. These are found on either side of the face, just below the ears. The swelling usually affects both glands, although it is also possible for just one gland to be affected. The swelling can cause pain, tenderness and difficulty with swallowing.

Other symptoms may include:

  • a general feeling of being unwell
  • high temperature
  • discomfort when chewing
  • headache
  • joint pain
  • feeling sick
  • dry mouth
  • mild pain in the stomach
  • feeling tired
  • loss of appetite

In about 1 in 3 cases of mumps, there are no noticeable symptoms.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our feeling sick or unwell Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

When should I see a doctor?

You should see your doctor, or take your child to the doctor, if you suspect mumps. It is a notifiable disease, which means the Australian Government monitors cases to ensure public health safety.

To protect others, children with mumps should not go to child-care, preschool or school until at least 9 days after their swelling started. Here’s a list of common childhood illnesses, including mumps, and their recommended exclusion periods.

It's very important to see a doctor if, as well as swollen glands, you or your child:

  • has a stomach-ache and is being sick
  • if male, shows signs of swollen, tender testes
  • complains of a severe headache
  • becomes drowsy
  • starts vomiting and cannot stand bright light
  • has a rash of small purple or red spots or bruises

If the symptoms don't improve after 7 days, or they suddenly worsen, contact your doctor.

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What causes mumps?

Mumps is caused by the mumps virus and is spread through close contact or by coughing and sneezing.

If you get mumps, the virus will move from your respiratory tract (the nose, mouth and throat) into the parotid glands, where it begins to reproduce. This causes inflammation and swelling of the glands.

Less frequently, the virus enters the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is the fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spine. Once the virus has entered the bloodstream, it can spread to other parts of the body, such as the pancreas, testes (in boys and men) or ovaries (in girls and women).

How is mumps diagnosed?

Your doctor will check your face for swelling and may do a swab test from your throat or blood test to confirm mumps. The urine or spinal cord fluid may be tested.

How is mumps treated?

There is no specific treatment for mumps. Treatment is focused on relieving symptoms until the body's immune system manages to fight off the infection. People with serious disease may need to go to hospital.

If you or your child has mumps, these self-care tips can help:

  • Get plenty of bed rest until the symptoms have passed.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. Do not give aspirin to children younger than 16.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid acidic drinks such as fruit juice because these can irritate the parotid glands. Water is usually the best fluid to drink.
  • Apply a cold compress to the swollen glands to help reduce the pain.
  • Eat foods that do not require a lot of chewing, such as soup, mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs. Avoid sour foods as these can stimulate saliva.

Can mumps be prevented?

In Australia, children are immunised against mumps. The vaccine is given in combination with the measles and rubella vaccine. This is known as the MMR vaccine.

Your child will receive the first immunisation dose of MMR at 12 months and a second dose at 18 months (called the MMRV, which includes the varicella — chicken pox — vaccine). Immunising your child with these 2 doses gives them immunity against mumps in more than 9 out of 10 cases.

Visit the Department of Health website to see the National Immunisation Program Schedule.

If you were not vaccinated against mumps as a child, if you were born during or since 1966 and you have not had 2 doses of a vaccine that contains mumps, or if you are not sure whether you have been vaccinated, talk to your doctor about whether you need a catch-up vaccination.

The mumps vaccine

Vaccination is your best protection against mumps. This table explains how the vaccine is given, who should get it, and whether it is on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Some diseases can be prevented with different vaccines, so talk to your doctor about which one is appropriate for you.

What age is it recommended?

At 12 months and 18 months.

Anyone older who has not had 2 doses of the vaccine previously.

How many doses are required? 2
How is it administered? Injection
Is it free?

Free for children at 12 and 18 months.

Free for people under 20 years old, refugees and other humanitarian entrants of any age.

For everyone else, there is a cost for this vaccine.

Find out more on the Department of Health website and the National Immunisation Program Schedule, and ask your doctor if you are eligible for additional free vaccines based on your situation or location.

Common side effects The vaccine is very safe. Possible side effects include fever, rash and feeling unwell.

Are there any complications of mumps?

Most people get better on their own and the face returns to its normal size in about a week.

In rare cases, mumps can be a serious disease. Complications of mumps can include:

  • inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). About 1 in 200 children with mumps will develop brain inflammation
  • inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
  • inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)
  • inflammation of the testicles, ovaries or breasts
  • infertility (not being able to have children)
  • nerve damage, leading to deafness
  • miscarriage in women who are in the first 3 months of pregnancy

Resources and support

  • If you need to know more about mumps, or need advice on what to do next, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
  • Find out more here about the National Immunisation Program Schedule.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2021

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