Mumps is a contagious viral infection that used to be common in children.
It’s most recognisable by the painful swellings located at the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands), giving a person with mumps a distinctive "hamster face" appearance. Other symptoms include headache, joint pain and a high temperature.
Read more about the symptoms of mumps.
See your GP if you suspect that you or your child has mumps. While the infection is not usually serious, mumps share symptoms with more serious types of infection, such as glandular fever and tonsillitis. It is always best to visit your GP so that they can confirm or rule out mumps.
Mumps is spread in the same way as colds and flu: inside infected droplets of saliva that can be inhaled or picked up from surfaces and passed into the mouth or nose.
A person is most contagious one to two days before the onset of symptoms, and for five days afterwards.
During this time, it is important to try to prevent spreading the infection to others; particularly teenagers and young adults who have not been vaccinated.
Once you have been infected by mumps, you normally develop a life-long immunity to further infection.
There is currently no cure for mumps but the infection should pass within two weeks.
Treatment is used to relieve symptoms and includes using painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, and applying a cold compress to swollen glands to relieve pain.
Read more about treating mumps.
The MMR vaccine
You can protect your child against mumps by making sure they are given the combined MMR vaccine (mumps, measles and rubella).
The MMR vaccine is part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule. Your child should be given one dose when they are around 12-13 months and a second booster dose before they start school. Once both doses are given, the vaccine provides 95% protection against mumps.
Who is affected
Before the introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1988 mumps was a very common infection in school-aged children. It was responsible for about 1,200 hospital admissions a year in England and Wales.
Mumps is much less common now, with the majority of cases occurring in younger people (usually born between 1980 and 1990) who didn’t receive the MMR vaccine as part of their childhood vaccination schedule, or have mumps as a child.
Mumps should pass without causing serious damage to a person's health. Serious complications are rare.
However, mumps can lead to viral meningitis if the virus moves into the outer layer of the brain. Other complications include swelling of the testicles in males and the ovaries in females who have gone through puberty.
Read more about the complications of mumps.