April 24, 2006
More than 1,300 cases of the mumps have been reported in eight Midwest states over the last 3 months, according to The New York Times. This is the nation’s largest outbreak of the virus in two decades. The mumps virus can cause swollen, painful salivary glands, headaches, fever, and sore throat, and can lead to more serious health problems.
Many of the cases have occurred among college students. This may be due to lower vaccination rates among students and the potential for the virus to easily spread among people living in close quarters. Although the vaccine is generally effective in preventing the infection, some of those who have been immunized can still get the disease if the vaccine "didn’t take." The mumps virus is highly contagious and can be spread in saliva when people sneeze, cough, and share utensils.
Doctors recommend that parents in the United States get kids vaccinated for the mumps. A child should get the first dose at 12 to 15 months old and a second dose at 4 to 6 years old. It is recommended that children who haven’t had this second dose receive it by 11-12 years of age. Older teens who haven’t had two doses of mumps vaccine also should be immunized, except for females who are pregnant or who may become pregnant within 3 months of vaccination.
The mumps usually goes away on its own within about 2 weeks, but in some rare cases can lead to more serious illnesses such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and the spinal cord). When mumps affects teenage boys, it can lead to orchitis, an inflammation of the testicles that causes swelling and pain. In teenage girls, mumps can affect the ovaries, causing pain and tenderness in the abdomen.
What This Means to You. Mumps can be prevented through vaccination, so it’s important to make sure your child is immunized. The mumps vaccine can be given alone or as part of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunization usually given as part of the routine checkup when children turn 1 year old. If you aren’t sure whether your child has been vaccinated, talk with your child’s doctor.
If your child has been exposed to the mumps or starts to show symptoms of an infection (such as swelling and pain over the jaw in the back of the cheeks, and a fever above 101? Fahrenheit or 38.3? Celsius), call your child’s doctor, who can confirm the diagnosis.
If your child is diagnosed with the mumps, it will go away on its own within about 10 days. (Since it is a viral, not bacterial, infection, it cannot be treated with antibiotics.) You may want to give your child ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help relieve fever, headache, or pain. Be sure to watch for any signs of complications, such as pain in the abdomen, testicles, stiff neck, convulsions, or extreme drowsiness. Call the doctor if your child has any of these symptoms.
It's important to keep a child with the mumps home from school, daycare, or other routine activities so that others aren’t infected. Your doctor can give you guidance on how long your child should stay home.
To prevent the spread of any virus among members of your family, make sure that everyone is up-to-date on vaccines. Also, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough, avoid sharing eating and drinking utensils, and encourage your kids to do the same. Regular and thorough handwashing is also key to stopping the spread of germs.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2006