Mumps is a viral infection characterised by a swollen face and neck. Up until the introduction of a mumps vaccine in the UK, mumps was a common childhood disease. Although mumps is usually mild, it can sometimes result in complications that can leave lasting damage to a person’s health.

Risk areas
Widespread around the world
Mortality rate
1 in 10,000 cases
Long-term effects
Serious complications include swelling of the ovaries and testicles which can cause lasting infertility. In some cases mumps can cause permanent hearing loss
People at highest risk
Adults, pregnant women

01. Causes

Mumps is a widespread childhood disease. The contagious viral infection is usually spread through coughs and sneezes, and is caught after coming into close contact with someone who has it.

02. Risk areas

Mumps is still a widespread childhood disease, more common in areas in which routine vaccination has not been implemented.

Most people who catch mumps in the UK are young adults who have not been vaccinated against the virus as a child.

03. Symptoms

A mumps infection is characterised by swelling in the face and neck, specifically below the ears.

The incubation period for mumps (the amount of time between catching the virus and the appearance of symptoms) is usually between 14 and 25 days.

The first symptoms to appear are usually:

  • headache

  • joint or muscle pain

  • general feeling of being unwell

  • a temperature of 38ºC or above

  • loss of appetite

The swelling of the parotid glands (underneath the ears) usually follows.

Around 1 in 3 people who catch mumps do not show any symptoms.

04. Diagnosis

Mumps symptoms can be very similar to other infections such as glandular fever and tonsillitis.

If you are worried that you or your child may have mumps, it is important to inform your GP. You should let them know in advance of attending the surgery if you suspect that you have mumps, in order that the correct precautions can be taken to avoid spreading the infection to others.

05. Treatment

There is no cure for mumps. Most cases will pass in 1 or 2 weeks, with help from the following measures:

  • plenty of bed rest

  • applying a warm or cold compress to swollen glands

  • eating soft foods

  • drinking plenty of fluids

Pain can be managed with the help of over the counter pain medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

06. Complications

Although mumps is mild in the majority of cases, it can sometimes result in serious complications.

The most common complications include:

  • inflammation of the pancreas (occuring in about 4%)

  • swelling of the ovaries and testicles (occuring in around 5% of teenage girls and women and 25% of teenage boys and men respectively)

  • viral meningitis, which occurs when the infection spreads to the outer protective layer in the brain. This can cause light sensitivity, neck stiffness and headaches, and usually passes after 14 days. The risk of serious complications is low.

Rarer and more serious complications include:

  • infertility

  • encephalitis (swelling of the brain) which occurs in around 1 in 1,000 cases and can be potentially fatal

  • deafness can occur in 1 in 20,000 cases

07. Prevention

The best way to prevent infection with mumps is by getting the MMR vaccine.

If you or your child need to get the MMR vaccine, you can book a vaccination appointment online today.

If you are unsure if the MMR vaccine is right for you, book a free telephone consultation to speak to one of our prescribing nurses who can advise you.

  • check if you need the MMR vaccine

  • avoid contact with anyone who has been infected with mumps

  • if you think you have mumps, stay at home for at least 5 days after developing symptoms and avoid contact with other people

Content reviewed by

Anne-Marie Major
21 August 2020