Mumps is an acute viral illness that causes painful enlargement of the parotid glands. These glands are located in front and below the ears and produce saliva or spit.
What is the cause?
Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus that spreads from one person to another by contact with infected saliva. Children between the ages of 2 and 12 are most likely to get the infection. In older people, besides the parotid glands, other organs like the testicles, the pancreas and the nervous system may also become involved. The incubation period of the illness, that is the duration between exposure and development of symptoms, is usually 12 to 24 days.
What are the symptoms?
There is painful swelling of the parotid glands, initially on one side and over 3 to 5 days in both glands. The pain increases during chewing and swallowing, and sour food items and juices that increase saliva production worsen the pain. There is high-grade fever along with headache and poor appetite. The fever usually comes down after 3 to 4 days and the gland swelling becomes less in 7 to 10 days. The child can spread the disease to others till the swelling in the gland remains that is 7 to 10 days. During this time he must be kept away from other children and not permitted to go to school.
In older males there may be associated pain and swelling of the testicles (orchitis). Mumps may also lead to inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). The doctor must be consulted immediately if there is:
Stiffness In the neck
Very high temperature
Swelling in the testicles
What is the treatment?
There is no specific treatment for mumps. The various symptoms may be relieved with medicines. Antibiotics are usually not prescribed. Fever is controlled with medicines like paracetamol that also relieves pain. Aspirin must not be given to children. A soft, bland diet with plenty of liquids is easy to take. Sour foods and juices must be avoided. It is not necessary for a child with mumps to stay in bed all the time.
How can it be prevented?
After an episode of mumps, one never gets the disease again and the attack provides life long immunity. For children who have not had mumps, vaccines are available that protect against mumps. The MMR vaccine protects against three viral illnesses namely measles, mumps and rubella. It should be given to all children at the age of 15 months. The vaccine must not be given to infants below one year, to a child running temperature or to pregnant women.
What are the complications?
Mumps can sometimes produce infection of the brain (encephalitis) which is a serious condition. If the testicles are affected in males it may result in infertility.