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Mumps in babies and children

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Mumps is a contagious illness caused by a virus.
  • The most recognisable sign of mumps is swollen salivary glands on one or both sides of the face.
  • The best way to lower your child's chance of getting mumps is through immunisation.

What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious illness caused by the mumps virus.

It's not commonly seen in Australian children. This is because of Australia's vaccination program which stops many children from getting sick.

Most children who get mumps have mild symptoms, but some children don't have any symptoms at all.

The best way to reduce your child's chance of getting mumps is through vaccination.

Most people who are vaccinated or who have had a previous case of mumps have lifelong immunity.

What are the symptoms of mumps?

The most recognisable sign of mumps is swollen salivary glands on one or both sides of the face. This is usually 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 have some of the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite

It can take 14 to 18 days for symptoms to develop after being exposed to someone with mumps.

You're contagious from about 2 days before you develop symptoms until about 9 days after the symptoms first appear.

How do babies and children catch mumps?

Mumps is spread by droplets that travel through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The virus can also spread by touching items that an infected person has touched — such as surfaces or tissues.

Mumps can also be spread through direct contact with saliva (spit) — from sharing food or drink.

It's important to remember that not everyone with mumps has symptoms, and even people without symptoms 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 and other public spaces.

Standard hygiene practices can also help prevent the spread of mumps:

  • hand washing
  • not sharing food and drink
  • coughing and sneezing into your elbow

Mumps may also be contagious through urine (wee). So it's particularly important to wash hands after using the toilet, helping someone in the toilet or changing a nappy.

What should I do if I think my child has mumps?

If you think your child may have mumps, you should contact your doctor straight away.

Do not go to the clinic since you don't want to infect people in the waiting room. Rather, call your doctor and they will let you know the safest way to see them.

How is mumps diagnosed?

A diagnosis of mumps can usually be made by examining your child.

Mumps is considered a notifiable disease. If your child has mumps, your doctor will notify your local public health unit.

The public health unit may ask to talk with you to try and find out where your child caught mumps. They may also ask who your child has been in contact with (contact tracing). This helps limit the spread of mumps and protect your community.

How is mumps treated?

There is no specific treatment for mumps.

How do I look after my child with mumps at home?

Make sure your child continues to drink fluids. They may drink less than usual if their swollen glands make swallowing uncomfortable.

Your child may find it hard to swallow some foods. Offer them soft foods such as soups and purees.

If your child is in pain or has a fever, you can apply a cold compress to the sore glands. This may give some relief.

Paracetamol or ibuprofen can help reduce pain and fever — but be sure to check the instructions on the pack.

How serious is mumps?

Most people get better from mumps in 1 to 2 weeks.

How can I protect my child from getting mumps?

The best protection against mumps is childhood vaccination.

Vaccination stops your child from catching mumps, and reduces the likelihood of an outbreak in the community.

In Australia, there have been no childhood deaths from mumps since vaccinations started in the early 1980s.

The mumps vaccine involves 2 doses:

  1. Dose 1 at 12 months — as part of the 'measles, mumps, rubella vaccine' (MMR).
  2. Dose 2 at 18 months — as part of the measles-mumps-rubella-varicella vaccine (MMRV).

The safety of these vaccines has been extremely well researched. They're proven to be safe for children and adults. It has been clearly shown that the MMR vaccine is not associated with autism spectrum disorder.

The mumps vaccine is free under the National Immunisation Program. The National Immunisation Program is an Australian government program. It makes sure that vaccination is free for people with, or eligible for, a Medicare card.

If you've missed one of your child's mumps vaccination appointments, speak with your doctor. They'll explain how best to catch up.

If you're unsure whether your child has been vaccinated against mumps, check the Australian Immunisation Register. This register records all vaccines given to everyone in Australia.

If your child has a medical condition that affects their immune system, talk to your doctor. They'll explain the best ways to protect your child from mumps.

What complications can occur with mumps?

Although mumps is usually mild, it can cause complications. This is more common in adults. Complications can include:

  • infection of the brain and brain lining
  • temporary deafness

In boys, the testes may be affected. This can cause painful swollen testicles at the time of infection. Fertility problems as a result of this are very rare.

Resources and support

If you have any questions or concerns about about the mumps, speak to your doctor or child health nurse.

Are you pregnant or planning a pregnancy? Learn more about how mumps during pregnancy can affect you and your baby.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

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