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What is mumps?

Mumps is caused by the paramyxovirus, a relative of the measles virus. Mumps causes enlargement of the 2 salivary glands. The salivary glands are found towards the back of each cheek, in the area between the ear and the jaw.

What causes mumps to spread?

Mumps is spread from person to person through direct contact with saliva, e.g. kissing or sharing objects contaminated with infected saliva (e.g. cups, cutlery). The mumps virus is also present in nasal and throat discharge, so can also be passed on through infected people coughing and sneezing.

Once you have had mumps you will develop an immunity to it and will not get it again.

What are the symptoms of mumps?

Mumps is usually easily recognised because of the swelling in the cheeks and jaw, caused by inflammation of the salivary glands. The swelling can occur on one or both sides of the face. Symptoms usually appear 14-24 days after first becoming infected. Other symptoms of mumps include:

  • Headache.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Slight fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Difficulty in swallowing.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Earache.

Men who develop mumps after puberty may experience painful inflammation of one or both of the testes and this may cause subfertility in later life.

Is mumps contagious?

Mumps is less contagious than measles or chickenpox, but it is still contagious. The saliva is normally infectious for about 6 days prior to the swelling of the salivary glands and then can be mildly infectious for approximately 2 weeks after.

How is mumps treated?

Mumps is a virus and therefore will not respond to antibiotics. You can treat the symptoms of mumps with paracetamol, rest and drinking plenty of fluid. To ease the pain and swelling of the salivary glands, apply a cool compress (ice wrapped in a towel) to the cheek.

What are the effects of mumps?

The majority of people will recover from mumps without any problems. On very rare occasions mumps might cause an inflammation of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord – meningitis or encephalitis, which is inflammation of the actual brain.

Women who get mumps when they are pregnant are at risk of having a miscarriage.

When should I call the doctor?

An adult with mumps should always see their doctor, but a child with mumps will not necessarily need to see a doctor (though you will need to tell your doctor that your child has mumps).

However, if your child is feeling very ill or has any of the following symptoms you should contact your doctor:

  • Vomiting or pain in the abdomen.
  • Severe headache.
  • Eyes that are sensitive to light.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Problems hearing in one or both ears.
  • Painful or red eyes.

How can I prevent getting mumps?

A vaccine is available for mumps (called M.M.R.) and is usually given to babies along with measles and German measles (rubella) at 12-15 months, a booster injection is then given before the child starts school.