(1) Dear Alice,

What are the symptoms of mumps?

(2) Dear Alice,

Can mumps kill you?

Dear Reader(s),

Mumps is a virus that primarily infects particular salivary glands (the parotid glands) located near the ears. The most well known symptom of mumps is swelling near the parotid glands that can cause the cheeks to puff out. The name “mumps” was given to the infection because of these lumps and bumps on the cheeks. Other symptoms of mumps are often very rare or mild, but can include:

  • Pain near the parotid salivary glands
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain when chewing or swallowing

Some of these symptoms are similarly experienced with other diseases. If you develop symptoms, your first step is to get an official diagnosis from a health care provider (more on this later). Cases of mumps are fairly rare in the United States because of childhood vaccines. The combined MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine is typically given in two separate doses before children enter school. For those receiving both doses, the effectiveness of preventing mumps is 90 percent. If someone only gets the first dose, effectiveness drops to 80 percent. If you have not yet received the vaccination, it’s a great idea to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or your campus health care provider. Columbia students taking six or more credit hours are required to have their MMR vaccines or proof of immunity in order to enroll, according to New York state law. 

That said, mumps is very contagious, particularly within the first week of symptoms. The infection can be spread through saliva, mucous, or phlegm from the lungs. Patients with confirmed mumps infections will often be advised to avoid contact with others during the first five to seven days after diagnosis. Patience and rest are really the only treatments for viral infections like mumps. Non-prescription pain relievers like acetaminophen and cold compresses can help soothe discomfort while your body recovers, which tends to be about two weeks.

There are some very rare, more serious complications associated with the inflammation caused by mumps, including swelling in the testicles, pancreas, ovaries, breasts, and brain. Fatality is extremely rare, occurring in less than two people per 100,000 cases of the illness, and linked to mumps-associated encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Hearing loss has also resulted in some of the more severe mumps infections. Check out the CDC’s mumps information page for additional facts and figures.

Again, if you think you have signs of mumps, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment to see your health care provider. Limiting your interactions with others will help prevent the spread of infection until you see a medical professional. It may also prove helpful to keep a symptoms journal, noting when specific symptoms started, if they are improving or worsening, and if you had any known exposure to someone diagnosed with mumps.

Hope this helps you stay healthy!


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