Mumps can be defined as a viral infection targeting the parotid glands, one of the 3 pairs of salivary glands positioned beneath and in front of the ears.

In most cases, the infection causes swelling in both cheeks. However, the swelling may only be seen in one cheek or even none at all. The term mumps translates into bumps or lumps within the cheeks in Old English.

The infection can result in hospitalization if serious complications develop, as the mumps is potentially serious. However, such complications tend to be a rare occurrence. Although not common, people suffering from this infection may also suffer from viral meningitis, swelling of the ovaries and testes for men and women respectively, temporary loss of hearing (which might be permanent in one or both ears), encephalitis (brain swelling) and pancreatitis (swollen pancreas).

What Causes Mumps?

The infection is caused by a similarly named mumps virus, which is an RNA virus classified under the virus family referred to asmumps paramyxovirus. Contact with infected persons, or contaminated surfaces lead to the spread of the disease. It can make its way to the brain and other glands, once it enters the bloodstream after finding its way into the body.

Generally, mumps infections are seen in young children aged 2 to 12 years old; unvaccinated adults are also susceptible to the mumps virus.

Infected persons are usually highly contagious 2 to 3 weeks after exposure to the mumps causing virus, which is seven days before and fourteen days after they start showing signs of infection.

As previously stated, mumps is a viral infection. The infection’s incubation period lies anywhere between 12 to 25 days after exposure; this represents a 16 to 18 day window.

If you have never been vaccinated against the disease, your chances of developing the virus are higher. You will develop immunity from mumps once you have had it.

Generally, mumps is spread from person to person through contact with saliva i.e. sharing any objects that have come into contact with infected saliva (utensils and cutlery) and kissing. Throat and nasal discharges also contain the virus. Furthermore, sharing dining utensils and cutlery, such as cups and knives and forks etc, with an infected person leads to the spread of the disease. As such, mumps and influenza are considered to be similarly contagious.

Before the licensure of the mumps vaccine in the 60s, mumps used to be a very common disease. However, as more children were vaccinated against the disease afterwards, the number of cases dipped significantly. In developing countries however, outbreaks are still common. Being vaccinated against the disease is therefore essential.

The MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine is one of the most commonly recommended vaccines by doctors for both adults and kids alike. In some parts of the US and the world at large, some of these diseases are commonplace and have the potential to cause serious injuries, even though some people consider them to be a thing of the past. This is quite sad, considering that they are all preventable through vaccination.


Considered to be the most contagious of all the 3 mentioned here, measles can be spread through the air. A single child suffering from the disease can be able to spread it to others who have who have not been vaccinated. The disease causes some minor symptoms including fever, cold like symptoms and coughing. In some cases however, measles causes severe symptoms such as seizures, pneumonia, lung infections, high fevers which lead to brain damage and death.


Also referred to as the German measles, Rubella is the least dangerous of all 3 described here. It’s is spread through physical contact (touching a runny nose or rash of an infected person) and the air. The disease causes the development of flu like symptoms and rashes.

MMR Vaccination

The vaccine is administered to young children in three stages; the first is administered at 12-15 months, the second at five years and then the last one at 10-18 years. Generally two doses are enough, but a third is necessary if the child was too young. The vaccine comes with the risk of causing minor side effects, one of which is a rash that disappears after a few days. The second side effect is characterized by swollen lymph nodes around the neck area.

Having your kids vaccinated against these diseases is essential. Be sure to consult your physician on the recommended vaccination times.