Mumps is an infection which primarily affects the parotid glands. This is a viral infection which affects one of the salivary glands that are situated near the lower region of the ears. Mumps infection can cause swelling of either one or both the parotid glands.
Mumps was a common infection affecting many people until its vaccine was developed. After the routine vaccination was practised, the number of cases reduced rapidly and the chances of being affected by this infection are very low at present. Hearing loss is a serious complication of mumps infection, but rare.
A specific treatment is still not available for mumps, but a vaccination is very important to prevent this infection.
Mumps virus is the cause of mumps infection. This infection spreads easily through infected saliva from person to person. Mumps can be contracted by inhalation of infected saliva droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. It can also spread by sharing of cups or other utensils with a person who is infected.
Some people who are infected by this virus may develop mild symptoms or there may be no symptoms at all. Usually the symptoms develop after about two to three weeks after exposure to the virus. These may include:
- Swelling and pain in the salivary glands
- Fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Pain while swallowing or chewing
Complications of mumps are rare but very severe.
Inflammation and swelling of other parts of the body is the most common complication of mumps.
- Testicles: Swelling of one or both the testicles in adult males may be seen. This condition is called orchitis which is painful and can also lead to sterility in rare cases.
- Pancreas: Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) may be caused in which symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and pain in the upper abdomen may be experienced.
- Breasts and ovaries: Inflammation of the breasts (mastitis) and ovaries (oophoritis) may be seen in females who have reached their puberty. Fertility of the person is usually not affected.
- Brain: Mumps infection can also lead to the inflammation of the brain. This condition is called encephalitis which can cause many neurological problems that can be life-threatening.
- Meninges: The spread of mumps virus into the bloodstream of the person can cause inflammation of meninges (meningitis) affecting the central nervous system.
- Hearing loss: mumps can rarely cause permanent hearing loss in one or both ears.
- Miscarriage: Getting infected by mumps during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage.
Mumps infection is diagnosed by performing a virus culture or a blood test. Antibodies are produced in the body of the infected person to fight against the virus, so when the blood test is done the presence of these antibodies indicate the presence of mumps virus in the body.
As mumps is a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective in treating this infection. Like in most of the other viral infections, the person recovers on his/her own in about two weeks of time.
Painkillers such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen may be prescribed to relieve the symptoms of fever and pain. Pain can also be reduced by using a cold compress on the swollen glands.
Having rest and drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding food that needs to be chewed may be advised.
The infected persons should be kept away from schools, universities and workplaces for atleast five days after the onset of symptoms to prevent the spread of the virus.
Prevention tips which are used in cold and flu should be followed. These include proper hand washing, avoiding touching of mouth and nose, using a tissue while sneezing.
A person who has been already affected by mumps virus during childhood will have immunity to the virus for the whole life, although few cases of second infections have been reported.
MMR vaccination is the best way to prevent mumps. Adults who didn’t receive a MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine in their childhood are also recommended to take this vaccination.
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