Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Childhood Vaccinations

        Health | Family Care

Mumps Vaccine
The mumps virus can even be spread through laughing.
The mumps virus can even be spread through laughing.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Mumps starts with flulike symptoms, including a high fever and headache, but progresses by causing swelling in the parotid glands, which are located at the back of each cheek. Read on to learn more about mumps and its vaccine.

Mumps Basics

Mumps is caused by a virus that is spread through nose and mouth fluids, particularly via sneezing, coughing, or laughing. Children can easily transmit mumps when sharing items such as toys, cups, and crayons.

Mumps primarily affects the saliva-producing parotid glands. These are found at the back of each cheek between the ear and jaw, and at least one side will swell remarkably due to mumps. Swallowing, talking, chewing, or drinking acidic beverages (such as orange juice) can be excruciating.

Mumps begins with a high fever, a headache, and a loss of appetite. It takes one week for the cheek swelling to go down and a total of ten to 12 days to fully recover. In rare cases, mumps can lead to swelling of the brain or other organs. Adolescent boys and adult men can also develop an inflammation of the testicles known as orchitis (however, sterility is rare because only one testicle is usually involved).

Because mumps is a viral infection, antibiotics have no effect, so you just have to manage the pain and let the virus work itself out.

Who's at Risk for Mumps

Most cases of mumps are in children ages 5 to 14, but the number of young adults infected has been slowly rising during the past 20 years. Children 12 months and younger are usually not infected.

Defensive Measures Against Mumps

The best way to prevent mumps is to be immunized. You can receive the mumps vaccine alone or, as is more common, as part of the MMR immunization.

Like many viral infections, mumps spreads easily from person to person, especially among children. Keep your kid healthy by:

  • Teaching your child good hand-washing habits.
  • Choosing a childcare provider with exemplary sanitation practices. Questions to ask include: Are children allowed to share toys without a disinfection process? Is play equipment wiped down with antimicrobial cleansers?
  • Understanding the "sick child" policies at your child's day care or school. Does having a high fever mean a child can't attend? If not, maybe it should.

Nevertheless, because mumps is contagious two days before symptoms begin, and because mumps can be spread from people who are infected but show no symptoms, immunization is still the best defense.

Most cases of polio show no signs. That's why it's so important to get your child immunized for the disease. Learn about the polio vaccine on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.