Mumps is an infection caused by a virus * . The main symptoms of mumps are inflammation * and swelling in one or both salivary (SAL-i-var-ee) glands, which produce saliva inside the mouth. In most cases of mumps, there are no complications, and the disease can be prevented by early immunization.
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What Is Mumps?
The mumps virus is spread through the air from an infected person to another person and incubates in the body for 14 to 24 days until symptoms appear. A person who has been infected by the mumps virus can spread the disease to others about a week before any symptoms appear and for about 2 weeks after.
Because of widespread vaccination * against the mumps virus, the number of cases in the United States has dropped sharply since 1967. There were 185,000 cases reported that year. In 1993, only 1,600 cases were reported.
Who Is at Risk for Mumps?
Mumps infects mostly school-age children between 5 and 10 years old in heavily populated areas of countries that do not require immunization against the mumps virus. It is common for the illness to spread to other members of the family as well.
Teenage and adult males who have not been vaccinated are at risk for a complication from mumps. The virus can infect the testicles * of males. They become inflamed and swollen. Usually, only one testicle becomes infected. There have been cases of sterility (the inability to have children) after both testicles became infected. There is a form of vaccination, called passive immunization, that can be given to older males who develop symptoms of mumps.
What Are Some Complications from Mumps?
A serious but not common complication from mumps can be the development of meningitis (men-in-JY-tis). Meningitis is a disease that affects the lining of the spinal column and the brain. Viral meningitis caused by the mumps virus usually is mild. It can cause headache, fever, and a stiff neck.
Another rare complication of the mumps is pancreatitis (pan-kre-a-TY-tis), an infection of the pancreas * . Pancreatitis causes abdominal pain and vomiting.
How Is Mumps Diagnosed and Treated?
Mumps can be diagnosed from saliva or urine samples. Another laboratory test measures the amount of virus antibodies * present in the sample. Usually, treatment involves giving the patient pain relievers, lots of fluids, and soft foods to eat, since chewing is painful. Bed rest is recommended, and the patient should be isolated from other people, especially those who are not immunized against the virus.
* virus (VY-rus) is a tiny infectious agent that lacks an independent metabolism (me-TAB-o-liz-um) and can only reproduce within the cells it infects.
* inflammation (in-fla-MAY-shun) is the body's response to infection or irritation.
* vaccination (vak-si-NAY-shun) is taking into the body a killed or weakened germ or protein to prevent lessen, or treat a disease.
* testicles (TES-ti-kulz) are the male reproductive organs wherein the sperm are produced.
* pancreas (PAN-kree-us) is a gland located behind the stomach that secretes insulin and other hormones and enzymes necessary for digestion and metabolism.
* antibodies (AN-te-bod-eez) are proteins produced by the immune system to fight specific infections.
Can Mumps Be Prevented?
Mumps can be prevented by receiving a vaccination against the virus. The vaccination for mumps usually is given to children during their second year of life. In most cases, it is combined in a single shot with the measles and rubella vaccinations.
Oldstone, Michael B. A. Viruses, Plagues, and History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1600 Clifton Road
N.E., Atlanta, GA 30333. The U.S. government authority for information
about infectious and other diseases, the CDC posts information about
mumps at its website.
The World Health Organization (WHO), Avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva 27,
Switzerland. This group's website posts a fact sheet about mumps.