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The virus

Mumps is a viral illness caused by a paramyxovirus, a member of the Rubulavirus family. The average incubation period for mumps is 16 to 18 days, with a range of 12 to 25 days.

Before and after being infected with Mumps.
Before and after being infected with Mumps.

Clinical features

Mumps is best known for the puffy cheeks and tender, swollen jaw that it causes. This is a result of swollen salivary glands under the ears on one or both sides, often referred to as parotitis. Mumps usually involves pain, tenderness, and swelling in one or both parotid salivary glands (cheek and jaw area). Swelling usually peaks in 1 to 3 days and then subsides during the next week. The swollen tissue pushes the angle of the ear up and out. As swelling worsens, the angle of the jawbone below the ear is no longer visible. Often, the jawbone cannot be felt because of swelling of the parotid. One parotid may swell before the other, and in 25% of patients, only one side swells. Other salivary glands (submandibular and sublingual) under the floor of the mouth also may swell but do so less frequently (10%).

Parotiditis (Parotitis; Mumps)
Parotiditis (Parotitis; Mumps)


Nonspecific prodromal symptoms may precede parotitis by several days, including low-grade fever which may last 3 to 4 days, myalgia, anorexia, malaise, and headache. Parotitis usually lasts at least 2 days, but may persist longer than 10 days. Mumps infection may also present only with nonspecific or primarily respiratory symptoms, or may be asymptomatic. Recurrent parotitis, when parotitis on one side resolves but is followed days to weeks later by parotitis on the other side, can also occur in mumps patients. Vaccinated cases are less likely to present severe symptoms or complications than under- or unvaccinated cases.

Mumps infection is most often confused with swelling of the lymph nodes of the neck. Lymph node swelling can be differentiated by the well-defined borders of the lymph nodes, their location behind the angle of the jawbone, and lack of the ear protrusion or obscuring of the angle of the jaw, which are characteristics of mumps.

Parotitis and Flu

While not a common symptom of flu, swelling of their salivary glands (parotitis) has been reported in persons with laboratory-confirmed influenza infections.



  • RT-PCR and viral culture are used to confirm mumps infection.
  • Buccal swabs are most commonly used for RT-PCR testing, but urine and CSF may also be used in specific situations.
  • IgM serology can also be used to aid in diagnosing mumps infection.
  • A patient’s vaccination status and timing of specimen collection are important for interpreting laboratory results.
  • A negative test result does not rule out mumps infection.


Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It spreads through direct contact with saliva or respiratory droplets from the mouth, nose, or throat. An infected person can spread the virus by

  • coughing, sneezing, or talking
  • sharing items that may have saliva on them, such as water bottles or cups
  • participating in close-contact activities with others, such as playing sports, dancing, or kissing

An infected person can likely spread mumps from a few days before their salivary glands begin to swell to up to five days after the swelling begins. A person with mumps should limit their contact with others during this time. For example, stay home from school and do not attend social events.

MMR vaccine
MMR vaccine

Mumps during Pregnancy

Mumps that occurs in pregnant women is generally benign and not more severe than in women who are not pregnant.


Mumps can occasionally cause complications, especially in adults.

Complications can include:

inflammation of the testicles (orchitis) in males who have reached puberty; this may lead to a decrease in testicular size (testicular atrophy) inflammation of the ovaries (oophoritis) and/or breast tissue (mastitis) inflammation in the pancreas (pancreatitis) inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) inflammation of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) deafness Neither inflammation of the testicles nor inflammation of the ovaries caused by mumps has been shown to lead to infertility.


Mumps vaccine is the best way to decrease your risk of getting mumps. It is usually given as part of a combination vaccine that protects against three diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR vaccine). This vaccine is only licensed for use in children who are 12 months through 12 years of age. Children should get two doses of MMR vaccine:

  • the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and
  • the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age.
  • The MMR vaccine is safe and effective.
  • Most children don’t have any side effects from the vaccine.
  • The side effects that do occur are usually very mild, such as a fever or rash.

Mumps in Vaccinated People

  • People who previously had one or two doses of MMR vaccine can still get mumps and transmit the disease.
  • During mumps outbreaks in highly vaccinated communities, the proportion of cases that occur among people who have been vaccinated may be high.
  • This does not mean that the vaccine is ineffective.
  • In outbreaks of highly vaccinated populations, people who have not been vaccinated against mumps usually have a much greater mumps attack rate than those who have been fully vaccinated.
  • Disease symptoms are generally milder and complications are less frequent in vaccinated people.


WikiMD Resources - Mumps

Latest research (Pubmed)


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