- Mumps is an acute viral illness caused by the mumps virus.
- It is now uncommon in Australia due to immunisation programs.
- Mumps usually occurs in children, but older people without immunity to the virus can also get it.
Mumps can can result in serious complications, such as inflammation of the spinal cord and brain, hearing loss and infertility (not being able to have children).
Mumps infection during the first trimester of pregnancy has been associated with spontaneous miscarriage, but there is no firm evidence that mumps during pregnancy causes congenital malformations.
Infection gives most people lifelong immunity from mumps. A repeat infection is rare.
How do you get it?
Mumps is usually spread when a person breathes in the virus that has been sneezed or coughed into the air by an infectious person. Sharing saliva with an infected person can also spread the virus.
Mumps is infectious from around 6 days before the onset of swollen salivary glands, until about 9 days afterwards. It is most infectious from 2 days before the illness begins until 5 days afterwards.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Symptoms usually develop 12 to 25 days after being exposed to an infectious person. Symptoms include:
- mild upper respiratory illness
- aching muscles
- generally feeling unwell
- swollen salivary glands (behind and below the jaw)
- pain near the ear, worsening when chewing.
About one-third of people with mumps have mild or no symptoms but can still infect others who are not immune.
Most children under 2 have no symptoms.
How do I know I have it?
See your doctor if you think you or your child could have mumps. Your doctor will arrange tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Caution: when making your doctor’s appointment, tell the staff that you may be infectious. You will need to wait in a separate area from others, especially young children.
Mumps infection can also lead to other health conditions, such as:
- pneumonia, particularly in children under 5
- viral meningitis affects about 10 per cent of those infected, but is usually followed by good recovery
- encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) is rare but often results in serious disability
- hearing loss is rare but can be permanent
- orchitis (swollen, tender testicles) occurs in about 20 to 30 per cent of infected males who are post-puberty (infertility due to orchitis is extremely rare)
- pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) is not common.
Mumps is a notifiable disease. This means doctors, hospitals and laboratories must inform the Department of Health of your diagnosis. Notification is confidential.
Department of Health staff may talk to you or your doctor to find out how the infection occurred, to identify other people at risk of infection, to let you know about immunisation and to tell you if you need to stay away from work, school or other group gatherings.
How is it treated?
There is no specific treatment for mumps infection. Talk to your doctor about treating the symptoms.
Do not give aspirin to children under 12 years of age, as it may cause Reye’s syndrome, a potentially life-threatening illness causing severe brain or liver damage.
Contact your doctor as soon as possible or ring healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222 if you develop any of the following symptoms and think you have mumps:
- severe headache
- testicle pain or swelling
- shortness of breathe with increasing difficulty breathing
- stomach pain.
While you have the disease
You can prevent spreading the infection by following this advice:
- Stay away from work, school, group gatherings and anyone who may not be immune, until 5 days after symptoms start.
- Tell people you were contact with during the week before you became ill, that you have mumps.
- Don’t share saliva, for example by sharing eating and drinking utensils or cigarettes.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with warm soapy water for at least 15 seconds after blowing your nose and handling used tissues.
How can it be prevented?
Is there a vaccine for mumps?
Yes, the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR vaccine) is available.
You and your family can avoid mumps infection by being vaccinated, or having immunity due to past infection. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure about your immunity.
Up-to-date vaccination is also important when travelling to countries where few people are immunised.
Where to get help
- Mumps is an acute viral infection.
- It is usually a childhood illness but older people can also get it.
- Most people only get mumps once.
View and download this information as a PDF factsheet (502KB).
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.