1) Dear Alice,

What are the symptoms of mumps?

2) Dear Alice,

Can mumps kill you?

Dear Readers, 

Mumps is a virus that primarily infects particular salivary 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 mild but can include: pain near the parotid salivary glands, fever, headache, fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite. Some of these symptoms are similarly experienced with other diseases. In light of this and to reduce the risk of spreading it to others, seeking medical care at the onset of symptoms is recommended. Though rare, there are situations in which mumps can cause death.  

So, how is mumps spread? This virus is very contagious, particularly within the first week of symptoms. The infection can be spread through saliva, mucous, or phlegm from the lungs. To confirm a mumps case, a viral culture or a blood test may be administered to see whether antibodies are present (signaling that the body is currently fighting off an infection). Patients with confirmed mumps infections will often be advised to avoid contact with others during the first five days after the onset of symptoms. Patience and rest are really the only treatments for viral infections such as mumps. Non-prescription pain relievers (such as acetaminophen) and cold compresses can help soothe discomfort while the body recovers, which tends to be about two weeks.  

The good news is that cases of mumps have been significantly reduced in the United States because of childhood vaccines. The combined measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is typically given in two separate doses before children enter school. For those receiving both doses, the effectiveness of preventing mumps is about 88 percent. With only the first dose, effectiveness drops to 78 percent. If you haven’t yet received the vaccination, it’s never too late to get one — it’s always a recommended preventive health behavior.  

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. Hearing loss has also resulted in some of the more severe mumps infections. Fatality is extremely rare and linked to mumps-associated encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Again, for anyone concerned about signs of mumps, scheduling an appointment to see a health care provider is recommended. Limiting interactions with others is also essential in preventing the spread of infection before and after medical care is received. Last, keeping a symptoms journal, noting when specific symptoms started, if they’re improving or worsening, and if there is any known exposure to someone diagnosed with mumps may help throughout the diagnosis and treatment processes. 

Hope this helps you stay healthy! 

Last updated Apr 02, 2021
Originally published Feb 28, 2014

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