Mumps is a viral condition that is recognisable by the parotid (salivary) gland enlargement that affects those infected with the disease. The parotid glands are located at the side of the face under the ears and the painful swellings give a person with mumps a distinctive ‘hamster face’ appearance. Mumps used to be one of the most common childhood illnesses, but since the development of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, the disease has become much rarer. However, even if your child has been vaccinated against MMR, it’s still possible for them to catch this highly contagious virus because the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective.
Symptoms of mumps
The characteristic swellings that indicate mumps can appear on one or both sides of the face, with one side sometimes puffing up several days before the other. The other symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Pain with swallowing and talking
It’s also possible for your child to have mumps without the jaw-line swelling. The condition may appear as a respiratory tract infection, in which case they would have the typical symptoms of a cold. In a very mild case, there may be no noticeable symptoms at all.
What are the possible complications?
Complications are rare, but it is possible for the mumps virus to affect other parts of the body. Serious complications include hearing loss, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), inflammation of the covering of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and inflammation of the pancreas. Orchitis, which is a painful inflammation of the testes, is another complication and although it hardly ever occurs in boys under the age of 10 years, it can cause infertility.
How is mumps spread?
A child with mumps is most contagious one to two days before and five days after the onset of their symptoms. The disease is spread via infected droplets of saliva that can be inhaled or picked up from surfaces and then passed into the mouth or nose. If your child hasn’t been immunised against mumps through the MMR vaccine, they can catch the disease by being around someone who has the illness or by touching something that has the virus on it, such as a toy or towel. Once infected by mumps, a person normally develops a life-long immunity to the disease.
Should I call my doctor if I suspect my child has mumps?
Absolutely yes. If your child is showing signs of mumps, you should phone your doctor for an immediate appointment. Mumps can easily be confused with other infections and conditions, such as salivary gland obstruction, so your doctor will want to make a full examination and take blood samples to confirm the diagnosis.
How should I treat mumps in my child?
It is highly unlikely that your child will contract mumps, but in the improbable event that they do, you can only treat the symptoms, as antibiotics can only fight bacteria and the mumps pathogen is a virus.
Prevention is better than cure
You can protect your child against mumps by ensuring that they receive the MMR vaccine, which is a part of most countries’ national immunisation program. It’s usually administered at 12-15 months of age, with a booster dose given between 4 and 6 years. You can check with your doctor about your child’s immunisation schedule.