What You Need to Know About Mumps

With recent reports of a mumps outbreak, we asked Dr. Kenneth Polin, a  primary care physician at Lurie Children’s Primary Care – Town & Country Pediatrics, to explain what everyone should know about this viral illness.

What Is Mumps?

Mumps is a contagious, viral infection that causes swelling of the parotid glands. Today, mumps is very rare because we have been very effective immunizing individuals. There are two factors that are probably contributing to this outbreak. First, there are patients who don’t immunize which puts their kids at risk of both getting the disease and spreading the disease. Second, even with the best immunizations, not all immunizations are effective.

Causes of Mumps in Children

Mumps is usually spread through droplets which means it can be spread when someone coughs, spits, sneezes or talks to you. Individuals can be infected when they inhale some of these droplets.

Mumps is in the same viral family as influenza A. Its incubation period is around 16-18 days but can be as little as 12 to as many as 25 days in some individuals.

Symptoms of Mumps in Children

Symptoms include fever, swelling of one or both salivary glands that sit over the angle of the jaw. Mumps is diagnosed when a clinician can not feel the angle of the jaw, meaning the salivary gland is swollen and everything under the gland can not be felt. This usually causes cheeks to look puffy as well.

There are blood tests that can confirm the diagnosis and this is a reportable illness. For most people, mumps is usually a mild illness. Since it is a virus, it can not be treated with antibiotics or other medicines.

Mumps Prevention

Prevention is important to avoid outbreaks and vaccination is key. If someone does come down with mumps, they should stay out of an environment (i.e. school) they may spread it for at least 9 days after the start of swelling salivary glands. 

For most kids, mumps protection is part of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR). They get these when they're 12–15 months old and again when they're 4–6 years old. Sometimes vaccinated people will still get mumps but their symptoms will be milder than if they had not gotten the vaccine.

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