Mumps – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Mumps is not a very common childhood infection but there are still occasional outbreaks in South Africa. Mumps is caused by a virus that is contagious like the flu. Complications from mumps infection is rare but if it is not monitored carefully, it can lead to serious complications that could be life threatening. One of the main characteristics of mumps is inflammation of the parotid gland, a gland which produces saliva and is located by the back of the jaw,  just in front of the ears.

Causes of Mumps

Mumps is caused by a virus that is spread from person to person through saliva. While it is contagious, mumps can be avoided to some extent by limiting your exposure to a person with the infection and practicing good hygiene. Children with the mumps should not be sent to school as they could infect other children and trigger an outbreak. HIV/AIDS patients, pregnant women and those who are unwell and debilitated should always be cautious, even if they have previously had the mumps vaccine.

Signs and Symptoms of Mumps

The most common symptom of mumps is parotitis – inflammation of the parotid gland which becomes swollen and painful. A person with mumps may also experience pain when chewing or swallowing and is reluctant to eat for this reason. Other symptoms may be vague and is often associated with infections like a fever, weakness and tiredness (fatigue).

There may also be a persistent headache and painful swelling of the tests in males. Click here to see a picture of a child with mumps. Signs and symptoms may be less severe in some children.

Complications of Mumps

If left unsupervised without proper rest, mumps can lead to a host of complications, some of which can be life threatening. Complications of mumps includes :

  • Orchitis – inflammation of the testicles which can lead to male infertility.
  • Inflammation of the ovaries in females although this usually does not affect fertility in women.
  • Pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Encephalitis – inflammation of the brain.
  • Meningitis – inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord.
  • Deafness – complete or partial, affecting one side or both.
  • Miscarriage in pregnant women.

Treatment and Prevention of Mumps

There is no specific treatment for mumps and it should be allowed to run its course. Paracetamol can be used for the pain and fever but aspirin should be avoided as its use may be linked to Reye’s syndrome. Bed rest, a healthy diet and plenty of fluids will help your body overcome the infection, which usually lasts for 2 weeks.

Mumps infection should be prevented and most children are vaccinated for mumps. The use of the MMR vaccine (measles-mumps-rubella) is widely used these days and parents should not be concerned about its links to autism as this is totally unfounded. Parents who opt for complementary medicine like homeopathy for their children should not avoid the vaccine as the complications from mumps can be severe. If you have previously had the mumps, then you will have natural immunity and you do not have to be too concerned about contracting the infection again.