Contracting mumps is rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 5,311 mumps cases reported in the United States in 2016. Getting your child vaccinated is important, because mumps can sometimes cause serious problems. It's also important because mumps is a contagious disease, and outbreaks can easily occur.

What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious viral infection that can cause painful swelling of the salivary glands, especially the parotid glands (between the ear and the jaw). Some people with mumps won't have gland swelling. They may feel like they have a bad cold or the flu instead.

Mumps usually goes away on its own in about 10 days. But in some cases, it can cause complications that affect the brain, the testicles, the ovaries or the pancreas.

The mumps vaccine protects against the illness. This vaccine is part of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella and varicella [chickenpox]) vaccines. Most children get the vaccine as part of their regular shots. While rare, protection from some childhood vaccines can wear off over time.

According to the CDC, before the U.S. mumps vaccination program started in 1967, about 186,000 cases were reported each year. Since the pre-vaccine era, there has been a more than 99% decrease in mumps cases in the U.S.

What causes mumps?

Mumps is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes near you or shares food or drinks. You can spread the virus seven days before and for nine days after symptoms start. You are most likely to spread the virus one to two days before and five days after symptoms start.

What are the symptoms?

  • Swelling and pain in the jaw. One or both cheeks may look swollen
  • Fever
  • Headache, earache, sore throat, and pain when you swallow or open your mouth
  • Pain when you eat sour foods or drink sour liquids, such as citrus fruit or juice
  • Tiredness, with aching in the muscles and joints
  • Poor appetite and vomiting

It usually takes two to three weeks to get symptoms after you have been exposed to the virus. Some people who are infected with the mumps virus don't have any symptoms.

If you have more serious symptoms, such as a stiff neck or a severe headache, painful testicles, or severe belly pain, call your doctor right away.

How is mumps diagnosed?

Mumps is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and a history of exposure to the virus. If needed, a blood test can be done to confirm that you have mumps and rule out other illnesses.

The mumps virus can also be identified with a viral culture.

How is it treated?

In most cases, people recover from mumps with rest and care at home. In complicated cases, a hospital stay may be required.

  • Take medicine to help relieve fever or headache, if needed. Follow all instructions on the label.
  • Use ice or a heat pack (whichever feels better) on swollen, painful areas. Put a thin towel under the ice or heat to protect the skin.
  • Drink extra fluids to help reduce fever and prevent dehydration.
  • Suck on ice chips or flavored ice pops. Eat soft foods that don't require chewing.
  • Don't eat sour foods or drink sour liquids.