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Mumps infection is caused by a virus similar in nature to the influenza virus. Mumps usually cause fever, headache, and swollen, painful glands under the jaw.

The initial symptoms of mumps include neck or ear pain, loss of appetite, tiredness, headache, and low-grade fever. Up to one-third of infected persons have minimal or no manifestations of disease. Swelling of salivary glands in the lower jaw is the most common symptom with the involved gland soon becoming visibly enlarged. Salivary glands on either side of the face may be affected and any combination of single or multiple salivary gland involvement may occur.

Severe pain can accompany the swelling, which tends to occur within the first two days and may first be noted as an earache with tenderness to touch. These symptoms tend to decrease after a week and are usually gone within two weeks. Additional symptoms include a headache, mild meningitis, which is an inflammation in the covering of the brain or spinal cord, and about one out of every four teenage or adult males with mumps will have a painful swelling of the testicles for several days. This usually does not make a person sterile.

Mumps can also cause several more severe complications such as swelling or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or hearing loss. Before there was a mumps vaccine, many children had hearing loss.

Mumps has been one of the leading causes of acquired deafness in childhood; onset may be sudden or gradual and deafness may be complete or permanent. Other complications involve organs such as heart, pancreas, and ovaries. Complete recovery is the rule. While deaths due to mumps have been reported, fatalities from mumps are rare.

No conclusive evidence exists to link birth defects with mumps infection during pregnancy. Prior to the licensing of the mumps vaccine in the 1960’s, more than 200,000 cases of mumps occurred each year. The number of mumps cases peaks during the winter-spring, months. In recent years children and teenagers have developed mumps. Mumps is uncommon in infants less than a year old.

Mumps is equally common in males and females. Teenagers and adults, especially males, who catch mumps are often much sicker for a longer period of time than younger children with a mumps infection.

Mumps is not as contagious as measles or chickenpox. A person is considered to be contagious from three days before to the fourth day of active disease, and even those who have few or no symptoms can transmit the disease. During mumps infection, the virus can be found in many parts of the body including fluids such as, saliva, urine, blood, breast milk, as well as in infected body tissues.

Transmission of the virus is through direct contact with infected fluids, or contaminated objects such as toys, dishes, etc. Symptoms appear fourteen to twenty-five days after exposure to an infected person, with an average waiting time of between sixteen and eighteen days.