What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus known as a paramyxovirus. Related paramyxoviruses cause measles and other respiratory illnesses.

If no immunization shot is given, mumps usually occurs in childhood. Although mumps is usually a mild disease, serious complications can occur. Recent outbreaks of mumps on college campuses have been reported.

How is mumps spread?

Once the mumps virus is in the upper respiratory tract, it spreads from the infected person to others through contact with saliva or respiratory secretions (for example, mucus). Mumps may also be contracted by coming into contact with objects such as toys or drinking cups that have been infected by the sick person.

Anyone who is diagnosed with mumps should be excluded from school or childcare, and should minimize contact with others during the contagious period, which is 9 days after his or her glands begin to swell.

What are the symptoms of mumps?

Symptoms of mumps are often mild. In fact, many people who get mumps do not even know that they are infected.

Symptoms do not appear right away. Instead, they usually show up from 12 to 25 days after infection. The more usual range is 16-18 days.

The classic sign of mumps is the painful swelling of the salivary glands just below the ear. This swelling, known as parotitis, can occur on one or both sides of the face. However, fewer than half of those who become infected with the mumps virus have this symptom.

For those who do have symptoms, these may include:

For those who have parotitis, these other symptoms will show up and last a few days before the person has any swelling. A common complication in older boys is orchitis, or inflammation of the testicles. This rarely results in sterility.

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