What is mumps?
Mumps is a contagious viral illness that is not commonly seen in Australia due to widespread participation in the National Immunisation Program.
Most people with mumps have only mild symptoms, but occasionally the virus can cause serious complications that affect the brain, nerves and other body organs. Around 1 in every 3 people who are infected with the mumps virus won’t have any signs and don’t feel sick at all.
What are the symptoms of mumps?
The most recognisable sign of mumps is large swollen glands — especially the parotid gland, which is in front of the ears.
If you have mumps, you may also experience some of the following symptoms:
- muscle aches
- loss of appetite
How can mumps affect my pregnancy? Are there risks to my unborn baby?
Being infected with mumps in the first trimester (12 weeks) of pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage. However, having mumps in pregnancy is not associated with an increased risk of birth defects for your baby.
How is mumps spread?
Mumps is spread by droplets that travel through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can also spread through contact with items that an infected person has touched — such as surfaces and tissues — or from sharing food or drink.
Mumps may also spread through contact with urine, so if anyone in your household has mumps, it is particularly important to wash your hands frequently, and especially after using the toilet, helping someone in the toilet or changing a nappy.
It can take 12 to 25 days after being exposed to someone with mumps before you see signs of illness. A person with mumps is contagious from about 7 days before the illness to around 9 days after they first notice the symptoms. It’s important to remember that not everyone with mumps has symptoms, and even people without them can spread mumps.
If you have been diagnosed with mumps, you need to keep away from any place where you could infect others. It is best to stay home from work and avoid picking children up from school or day care. Standard hygiene practices like hand washing, not sharing food and drink, coughing and sneezing into your elbows and throwing used tissues directly into the bin can also help prevent spread of the disease.
How can I manage mumps at home?
Most cases resolve by themselves, and there is no specific treatment for mumps. Paracetamol can relieve the pain of swollen glands and help with fever. You can also apply a cold compress to your glands if they are sore and this may provide some relief from the discomfort. It may be uncomfortable to eat when you have swollen glands, but try to keep drinking water. Purees and soft foods may be easier for you to swallow than solid foods.
Paracetamol can be taken during pregnancy within the dosage guidelines specified on the pack. It is important to note that other pain medications may need to be avoided in pregnancy, and some pain medicines should not be taken together with paracetamol. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine during pregnancy.
What complications can occur?
Long-term complications due to mumps are not common. Infection of the brain and brain lining is a serious complication although it is rare and unlikely to cause a permanent problem. Rarely, you could experience pain and swelling of the pancreas, ovaries, liver, heart, thyroid or breasts. Deafness can also occur also but this is usually temporary.
If you have pain other than in your face and the front of your neck around your glands, or if you have a high fever or seem to be feeling sicker over time, seek advice from a doctor.
Check your symptoms with the healthdirect symptom checker tool.
I’m planning a pregnancy — what can I do to avoid mumps?
Mumps can be prevented by vaccination, but vaccination during pregnancy is not recommended. If you are planning a pregnancy, speak to your doctor or contact the National Immunisation Information Line for more information on when and how to get vaccinated against mumps.
Even if you were vaccinated as a child, you may need a booster dose of vaccine to make sure you are still immune.
Vaccinations and pregnancy
Some vaccinations are recommended before pregnancy, while others you can safely have during pregnancy.
If you get vaccinated with the MMR vaccine, you should use contraception and not get pregnant for at least 28 days after the injection. It’s safe to have the MMR vaccine after your baby is born, even if you are breastfeeding.
Mumps in babies and children
Find out how babies and children can catch measles, how to treat your child at home, and when to have them vaccinated.
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Last reviewed: April 2021