What is mumps?

Mumps is a caused by a virus. It affects the parotid glands that make saliva. These glands are in front of the ears and below the jaw. Infection can occur on one or both sides causing swelling and pain of those glands. In recent years there have been mumps outbreaks on college campuses, including Bloomington.

What are the symptoms of mumps?

Symptoms of mumps may include:

  • Swelling and tenderness in front of and below one or both ears and along the jaw
  • Pain along the jaw and in front of and below one or both ears
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle aches
  • Loss of appetite

Most people recover completely in a few weeks. People who do not have swelling may still spread the virus to others.

How is mumps spread?

Mumps is spread through indirect or direct contact with an infected person’s nose or throat droplets. It can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes or shares drinks or eating utensils. People with mumps can spread it for up to 2 days before and 5 days after the start of symptoms. Anyone with mumps should stay home during that time to prevent giving the illness to others. Some people who get mumps have very mild or no symptoms, and often do not know they have the disease. Symptoms typically appear 16-18 days after infection, but this period can range from 12-25 days after infection.

What are the complications of mumps?

Complications of mumps are rare but may include orchitis (painful swelling of the testicles), meningitis (in 1-10% of cases), encephalitis (swelling of the brain; less than 1% of cases), and/or hearing loss (very rare). There may be an increased risk of miscarriage with mumps in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Who is at risk for mumps?

Anyone who has not had two doses of mumps vaccine, usually via the MMR ( measles-mumps-rubella vaccine), is at risk for mumps. Even those who have had two MMR vaccines can get mumps because the vaccine does not produce 100% immunity. Another risk for getting mumps is being on a college campus with a mumps outbreak. The risk is greatest for international travelers or people who are in contact with international travelers.

How is mumps treated?

Since mumps is caused by a virus, antibiotics cannot cure or treat mumps. Most treatment is to alleviate symptoms. Bed rest, a soft diet to reduce pain when chewing, and overt-the-counter pain and fever relievers are often recommended.   

How can mumps be prevented?

The MMR vaccine is safe and prevents mumps at the rate of 88% on average after two doses. Most schools require proof of vaccination before entry. If you have not had mumps and have no record of getting the vaccine, your health care provider can give you the vaccine or order a blood test to check for immunity. In January 2018, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended that, in the setting of a mumps outbreak, individuals who have been previously vaccinated with two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine receive a third dose of mumps virus-containing vaccine.

Other ways to stay healthy and prevent spreading the illness:

  • Check your immunization records to ensure that you’ve had two doses of MMR
  • Practice good hygiene habits: wash your hands regularly with soap and water; sneeze and cough into a tissue or your elbow; and avoid sharing drinks, food, and utensils.
  • Avoid sick people

What to do if you are exposed to mumps?

Watch for symptoms, even if you have been vaccinated. Early symptoms usually begin 16 to 18 days after contact and infection and are similar to those of the flu: fever, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. The classic symptoms of mumps usually follow in 2 days with swelling and pain in front of and below one or both ears and along the jaw in the parotid/salivary glands.

Stay home if you are sick. Anyone suspected of having mumps should stay home from school, work, and public or social activities for five days. This means do not attend class or labs, do not go to work, do not socialize with others during this five-day period and do not use public transportation. Mumps is contagious for about 2 days before symptoms appear until about 5 days after parotid swelling begins. Self-isolation when you are contagious will reduce the chance of getting others sick. Always cover your mouth and nose during any sneezing or coughing and wash your hands frequently.

What to do if you experience symptoms of mumps?

Isolate yourself from others and call the IU Student Health Center at 812-855-4011 (choose option 5 if you are calling when we are closed).

Learn more about the mumps

Still haven’t found what you’re looking for?

Remember, reading about a condition is no substitute for getting expert advice from a medical professional. If you have symptoms that worry you, schedule an appointment at the Student Health Center.