What is Mumps?

Mumps is an acute viral infection characterized by a non-specific prodrome with myalgia, loss of appetite, fatigue, headache, and fever. These symptoms are followed by acute onset of unilateral or bilateral tender swelling of the parotid or other salivary glands. Usually 60-70 percent of those infected have this typical acute parotitis, others are associated with non-specific or primarily respiratory symptoms but 20 percent may be asymptomatic. Complications can include inflammation of the testicles, ovaries, or breasts, meningitis, spontaneous abortion, and deafness.

The incubation period is usually 14-18 days (range 12-25 days) from exposure to onset of symptoms. Patients are infectious from 2 days before until 5 days after symptoms begin. Transmission is via direct contact with respiratory secretions or saliva. Treatment is symptomatic and supportive with patients kept in isolation. Quarantine and exclusion from school or work is mandated by the Department of Public Health for those who are ill as well as non immune contacts. If a significant number of cases should be identified within the Harvard community, students who have not been immunized or otherwise have proven mumps immunity may be asked to leave the University.

What are the Symptoms of mumps?

Mumps is best known for the puffy cheeks and swollen jaw that it causes. This is a result of swollen salivary glands.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears on one or both sides (parotitis)

Symptoms typically appear 16-18 days after infection, but this period can range from 12-25 days after infection. Some people who get mumps have very mild or no symptoms, and often they do not know they have the disease. Most people with mumps recover completely in a few weeks.

How is mumps prevented?

Immunization is the best form of protection. Mumps can be prevented with the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, which prevents most, but not all, cases of mumps and complications caused by the disease. Two doses of the vaccine are 88 percent effective at preventing mumps; one dose is 78 percent effective.

Dense social and public spaces where people are in close proximity can present an increased risk of contracting and spreading the infection. Prevention is centered on good hygiene:

  • ​Always cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Dispose of used tissues and other similar objects appropriately
  • Do not share glasses, eating utensils, water bottles, cigarettes, lipstick/makeup, etc.

Is there a vaccine for mumps?

Mumps can be prevented with the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. The MMR vaccine prevents most, but not all, cases of mumps and complications caused by the disease. Two doses of the vaccine are 88 percent effective at preventing mumps; one dose is 78 percent effective.

Individuals who have previously had mumps are considered immune to the virus. However, those who have been vaccinated for mumps—though much less likely to contract the virus—can still be infected. Populations most at risk for infection or complications include the elderly, small children, pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, and those who have not been vaccinated. If you are unsure whether or not you have been vaccinated, you should contact your primary health care provider.

Should I receive an MMR "booster" shot?

Per the CDC, a third MMR dose administered as post-exposure vaccination did not have a significant effect…on prevention of additional cases (CDC EID Volume 19, Number 9-September 2013).

Do certain populations have an increased risk for infection or complications?

Populations most at risk for infection or complications include the elderly, small children, pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, and those who have not been vaccinated. If you are unsure whether or not you have been vaccinated, you should contact your primary health care provider.

What should I do if I am experiencing symptoms of mumps?

If you are a member of the Harvard community and are experiencing any symptoms of mumps—facial swelling, jaw pain, ear ache, or testicular swelling—or if you think you may have been exposed, we advise you to refrain from public activities, avoid travel and public transportation, and contact Harvard University Health Services at (617) 495-5711 to be evaluated, even if you have been vaccinated.

 


Visit the CDC website or the Cambridge Public Health Department website for more information.