Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus and characterized by swelling of the salivary glands.
The first sign of mumps is a light fever that lasts 1 to 2 days. The following symptoms then appear:
Swelling of the salivary glands near the jaw, in front of the ears
Pain in one or both sides of the jaw or ears
It can take 12 to 25 days between exposure to the mumps virus and the onset of symptoms. This is known as the incubation period. You start to become contagious 2 days before the swelling of the salivary glands and can remain contagious for up to 5 days after this. Symptoms last 3 to 10 days. In some cases, mumps can lead to complications.
1 person out of 3 infected with mumps does not have symptoms.
Mumps can be confused with other respiratory infections, such as the common cold.
When to consult
If you have been into contact with someone with mumps and you have symptoms of the disease, consult your doctor or your CLSC to confirm the diagnosis. If you go to a health-care facility, inform the staff immediately that you have been in contact with someone with mumps. You will be given a mask to prevent you from spreading the disease to other people in the waiting room.
There is no treatment for mumps. Most healthy people recover on their own within 3 to 10 days.
If you have mumps, stay home and:
Rest in bed
Drink a lot of liquids
Eat soft foods
Avoid citrus fruits because their acidity can increase the pain
You can ease your symptoms by taking medication according to instructions.
Take medication according to instructions
To relieve your symptoms, you may take over-the-counter medication medicine such as acetaminophen, Tylenol® for example, and ibuprophen, Advil® for example.
Children and adolescents
If your child is over 3 months old and has a fever, you may give him or her acetaminophen such as Tylenol®, following instructions given and according to your child’s weight.
Avoid giving children and adolescents acetylsalicylic acid such as aspirin. Such medication can lead to a serious disease of the brain and liver known as ‘Reye's Syndrome’ in children and adolescents.
Possible complications of mumps include:
Inflammation of the testicles
Inflammation of the ovaries
Inflammation of one or both breasts
Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes around the brain)
Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
Temporary deafness to high-pitched sounds
Pregnant women with mumps are at higher risk of a miscarriage at the beginning of their pregnancy. However, mumps are not associated with fetal malformation.
In rare cases, mumps can also lead to:
Inflammation of the pancreas
Inflammation of the thyroid gland
Sterility as a result of inflammation of the ovaries or testes
Testicular atrophy (decrease in volume) after the inflammation
Complications are more serious and frequent in adults. In some cases, hospitalization is required.
Mumps spreads easily between family members or among children at the same daycare or school.
The virus is spread through:
Droplets from the nose and throat of an infected person who coughs or sneezes
Contact with an object or surface that is contaminated with the saliva of an infected person
An infected person can spread mumps even if they do not have symptoms.
Protection and prevention
Stay home when your salivary glands begin to swell. You should not go to work or school for up to five days from the onset of swelling.
Despite not being 100% effective, vaccination is the best way to be protected against mumps. Vaccination reduces the severity of symptoms and complications of mumps.
The mumps vaccine is a combined vaccine, which means that it protects against several diseases at the same time. According to Québec’s immunization schedule, children are given the mumps vaccine at 12 and 18 months of age.
Since the introduction of the free vaccine program in Québec, the number of mumps cases has dropped by nearly 99%.
How to get vaccinated
Anyone born in or after 1970 can get vaccinated against mumps for free under the Québec Immunization Program.
Anyone who has not had the vaccine or who has never had mumps can become infected.
Adults are most at risk of having complications from the disease. People born after 1970 are at increased risk of getting mumps.
Children younger than 1 are most at risk of getting mumps because they cannot receive the vaccine before 12 months.
However, adults are most at risk of experiencing complications from the disease.
Given that the mumps vaccine is not 100% effective, people who are vaccinated can still get the disease from an infected person. In such cases, the vaccine helps to reduce the severity of the symptoms and the risk of complications.
In Québec, mumps is a reportable disease. When laboratory staff and health professionals detect a case of mumps, they must inform public health authorities.