Mumps in babies and children
What is mumps?
Mumps is a contagious viral illness not commonly found in Australian children. This is because of Australia’s effective vaccination program which prevents many children from getting sick. While most children who have mumps suffer from mild symptoms, some children don’t feel any symptoms at all. In rare cases —around 1 in 200 — children with mumps will experience serious complications such as brain inflammation, while in some cases, mumps will cause nerve damage and deafness.
The best way to reduce your child’s chance of getting mumps is through on-time vaccination since outbreaks still occur in Australia.
What are the symptoms of mumps?
The most recognisable sign of mumps is swollen glands on one or both sides of the face — especially the parotid gland which is in front of the ears.
Although 1 in every 3 people who are infected with the mumps virus don’t feel sick at all, your child may experience some of the following symptoms:
- muscle aches
- loss of appetite
How do children and babies catch mumps?
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 or tissues — or from sharing food or drink.
It can take 12 to 25 days after being exposed to someone with mumps before you notice symptoms.
A person with mumps is contagious from about 7 days before they develop symptoms to about 9 days after the symptoms first appear. Its important to remember that not everyone with mumps has symptoms, and even people without them can spread the virus.
How can I prevent the spread of mumps?
If your child has mumps, you need to keep them away from childcare, parks or other public spaces. Standard hygiene practices like , not sharing food and drink, and coughing and sneezing into the elbow can also help prevent spread. Mumps may also be contagious through urine, so when a family member has mumps, it is particularly important to wash hands after using the toilet, helping someone in the toilet or changing a nappy. If your child has mumps, you need to keep them away from childcare, parks or other public spaces. Standard hygiene practices like hand washing, not sharing food and drink, and coughing and sneezing into the elbow can also help prevent spread. Mumps may also be spread through contact with urine, so when a family member has mumps, it is particularly important that they wash their hands after using the toilet, helping someone in the toilet or changing a nappy.
How do I treat the mumps at home?
While most cases resolve by themselves, and there is no specific treatment for mumps, if your child is in pain or has a fever, you can apply a cold compress to the sore glands. This may provide some pain relief.
Make sure your child continues to drink water, especially if their swollen glands make swallowing uncomfortable, since they may tend to drink less than usual. Your child may have a reduced appetite and may also find it hard to swallow some foods, so offer them soft foods such as soups and purees. Paracetamol can help reduce the pain and fever — but be sure to check the dosage instructions on the pack.
What complications can occur?
Complications due to mumps are more common in adults and adolescents than in young children and babies. In boys, the testes may be affected, which may lead to fertility problems in the future. Rarely, you could experience pain and swelling of the pancreas, ovaries, liver, heart, thyroid or breasts. Infection of the brain and brain lining is a serious complication, although it is rare for this to cause a permanent problem. Deafness can also occur but it is usually temporary.
If your child has pain other than in their face and the front of their neck, they have a high fever, or their symptoms get worse, seek medical advice from a doctor.
When can my child be vaccinated against mumps?
The National Immunisation Program is an Australian government program that ensures vaccination is free for people who need it most. It includes 2 doses of the mumps vaccine for all Australian infants — one at 12 months and the other at 18 months of age.
The mumps vaccine is delivered as a combined injection with the measles and rubella vaccines — known as the ‘measles, mumps, rubella’ or MMR vaccine. If you’re unsure whether your child has been vaccinated against mumps, check the Australian Immunisation Register, which records all vaccines given to everyone in Australia.
Vaccination is important to prevent your child from contracting mumps, as well as reducing the likelihood of an outbreak in the community. Since vaccinations for mumps started in the early 1980s in Australia, there have been no childhood deaths from mumps.
If you have missed one of your child’s mumps vaccination appointments, speak with your doctor to find out how to catch up.
Immunisation and vaccinations for your child
Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting children against certain diseases. Discover more about childhood vaccinations.
The safety of these vaccines has been extremely well researched and they are proven to be safe for children and adults. It has been clearly shown that the MMR vaccine is not associated with autism or autistic spectrum disorder, and the best protection against the complications of mumps is on-time childhood vaccination.
If your child has a medical condition that affects their immune system or is taking medications that affect their immunity — such as having chemotherapy — your doctor can advise you on the best options to protect your child from infectious diseases, including mumps.
Are you pregnant or planning a pregnancy?
Learn more about how mumps during pregnancy can affect you and your baby.
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Last reviewed: April 2021