KidsMD Health Topics


  • Overview

    Mumps is a very contagious viral illness that usually makes a child have a fever and swollen salivary glands in his mouth and near his ear. It may also involve the central nervous system.

    • It's spread from child to child.
    • Children are contagious one to seven days before symptoms appear.
    • A vaccine is available to help prevent the disease.
    • Since it's viral, there is no cure, but is treatable.
    • Early treatment to relieve symptoms helps prevent serious complications.

    How Boston Children's Hospital approaches the mumps

    The Children's Hospital Informatics Program created HealthMap, an online resource and smart phone app that helps track the spread of contagious diseases in real time, including the mumps.

    Boston Children's Hospital 
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Fegan 6
    Boston MA 02115

  • In-Depth

    What is the mumps?

    Mumps is a very contagious viral illness that usually consists of a fever and swelling of the salivary glands in the mouth and near the ear. It may also involve the central nervous system.

    What causes the mumps?

    The mumps are caused by a virus called the paramyxovirus. It's spread from one child to another through direct contact with discharge from the nose and throat. Infected droplets in the air from a sneeze or close conversation can be inhaled and may cause infection. Your child is contagious from one to seven days before the symptoms occur, and remains contagious for five to nine days after.

    Is the mumps common?

    • Mumps is especially rare in children younger than 3 and in adults over 40.
    • It's most prevalent in the late winter and spring.
    • Thanks to the vaccine developed to prevent the mumps, cases are relatively rare in the United States. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009 saw the largest U.S. mumps outbreak since 2006, with 179 confirmed or probable cases reported in multiple locations in two states and an additional 15 cases reported in Canada.  

    What are the symptoms of the mumps?

    Symptoms of the mumps may vary for each child who is affected. It may take between 16 to 18 days for your child to develop signs of mumps after coming in contact with the disease. The most common symptoms include:

    In an early phase of the disease

    • fever
    • headache
    • decrease in appetite
    • not feeling well

    Within 24 hours of the above symptoms

    • earache or face pain
    • pain is worse with chewing
    • pain is worse with foods that cause an increase in saliva production, such as sour foods

    Over the next 24 hours

    • swelling of one of the saliva glands located on the side of the face, near the outside of the ear. It may make the entire cheek appear swollen
    • less often, the child may have swelling of two other saliva glands, which are located under the tongue and below the chin

    What are the complications from the mumps?

    Mumps can lead to sever complications, including:

    • Meningitis
      • swelling of tissue around the brain and the spinal cord
      • symptoms may include:
        • headaches
        • neck stiffness
        • nausea and vomiting
        • changes in behavior
        • eyes sensitive to light
    • Pancreatitis
      • inflammation of the pancreas.
      • this is a rare, but serious complication.
      • symptoms may include:
        • sudden onset of severe pain high in the stomach
        • fevers
        • chills
        • vomiting
        • weakness
    • Orchitis
      • inflammation of the testes
      • symptoms may include:
        • fever
        • chills
        • headaches
        • nausea and vomiting
        • stomach pains
        • painful swelling of one or both testes
    • Oophoritis
      • inflammation of the ovaries in females
      • symptoms may include:
        • fever
        • stomach pain and tenderness
        • nausea and vomiting
        • pain on one side of the pelvic area or both

    Can you prevent the mumps?

    The mumps vaccine is usually given in combination with the measles and the rubella vaccine. Most children who receive their shots will be protected during childhood. The MMR vaccines are given in two doses to babies and children, once between the ages of 12 and 15 months, and again between the ages of 4 to 6 years. Learn more about the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine.

  • Tests

    How does a doctor know that it's the mumps?

    Mumps are usually diagnosed based on a complete medical history and physical exam. The physical symptoms are usually enough to confirm the diagnosis.

  • The goal of treatment for the mumps is to relieve symptoms and prevent severe complications from occurring. Since it's a viral infection, there is no cure for mumps. But certain steps can relieve your child's symptoms and prevent complications. These include:

    • acetaminophen for fever and pain
    • rest
    • increased fluid intake
    • adjust your child's diet based on what they can tolerate (foods that increase saliva production will cause an increase in pain)
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