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What Are the Symptoms of Mumps?

Keeping track of vaccinations can help determine when a booster is due.
A syringe and two vials of mumps vaccine.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2014
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Mumps, a viral infection which is characterized by a swelling of the parotid glands, is an increasingly rare illness thanks to the fact that it is preventable through vaccination. However, being able to recognize the symptoms of mumps can still be important, as it can occur in people who have not been vaccinated or individuals who have not received booster shots. Especially in adult males, mumps can be a very serious disease.

The incubation period for mumps can be lengthy, with the symptoms of mumps appearing up to three weeks after exposure. One early sign is a rising temperature, which can climb to 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius) or higher. The patient also usually feels uncomfortable, and may have nausea or decreased appetite. Within one to two days, the parotid glands start to swell, and the face and throat develop a lumpy, swollen appearance.

Patients with mumps can have trouble swallowing or eating, and their jaws can become quite painful. The word “mumps” is derived from an older word meaning “to grimace,” reflecting the painfully contorted facial features which some patients develop. Symptoms of mumps can also include very painful ear aches, stiffness of the neck, fatigue, and aversion to light.

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In males who have passed puberty, mumps can lead to the development of orchitis, in which the testes become swollen and very hot. This can lead to infertility. Boys are less at risk of this complication of mumps. Women can develop swelling of the ovaries during an active mumps infection, but this does not appear to be linked with fertility problems later in life. In adults, pain in the abdomen or groin caused by such swelling is another symptom of mumps.

If the symptoms of mumps are identified, the patient should be taken to a doctor for treatment. It is also a good idea to keep the patient isolated to avoid spreading the disease while he or she is contagious, and to report the infection to the patient's school or workplace to alert people to the fact that they may have been exposed to mumps. Patients usually weather a mumps infection successfully when they are given adequate treatment, which includes rest and lots of fluids.

For children, routine mumps vaccination is required by law in some regions of the world, and the vaccine is usually provided in the combination measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. Adolescents and adults should keep up on their vaccination records to determine when they need booster shots, especially if they have been exposed to mumps at work or in school.

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