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Mumps is kind of an old school illness, you don’t hear much about it these days and I’m sure most of you don’t even know someone who’s had it. Where mumps used to be quite common, cases of mumps in the Western world have seen a massive decrease in the last 50 years.  This is mostly thanks to the mumps vaccine developed in the 1960s and now widely administered.

Mumps is what one of those “M’s” in the MMR vaccine stands for. Most of you would have had the MMR before you started school and you were probably given one vaccine between the age of 12- 15 months or 4-6 years old. It protects you pretty well from Mumps, Measels and Rubella and for most lasts a lifetime but immunity can wear off.

What is Mumps?

Basic Outline and Symptoms

  • Mumps is a viral infection that mainly targets the salivary glands in particular the ones that sit below and it front of your ear (parotid glands)
  • The virus causes swelling in theses glands which leads pain with chewing and swallowing, and gives your cheeks a puffed out look (like a hamster preparing for hibernation)
  • Other Symptoms
    • Mild fever
    • Weakness and fatigue
    • Swollen glands elsewhere (like in your armpits)
  • Mumps these days is rare and the symptoms above could be confused with those caused by other more common illnesses such as tonsillitis and glandular fever
  • Cases of mumps may be seeing a rise in the UK and Europe as more parents are opting to not give their children an MMR vaccine often due to recent high profile claims of the connection between the MMR vaccine and other conditions, in particular autism. (See MMR information link)
  • Although mumps is rare it is reasonably contagious (about as contagious as the flu). It can be contracted through a misplaced sneeze or cough or from sharing cutlery and cups. If you do contract it, it is likely to take a couple of weeks before you show symptoms and you’ll probably be contagious for around a week after diagnosis (no kissing or cross contaminating ice cream licking)


As Mumps is a virus it will not respond to antibiotics just like all other viruses. Instead it will probably need to just run its course - for most adults and children this will take around two weeks. Although some of the symptoms can and should be treated such as the fever (high fevers carry high risks such as encephalitis) serious complications are rare and the best treatment is really going to be rest and looking after yourself.


Although complications are rare, some of them are pretty serious and worth keeping an eye out for. For instance I’m sure some of you may have heard that mumps can lead to infertility and that – quite rightly – may scare you a little.

  • Infertility and mumps, in around 50% of cases where males past the age of puberty get mumps they also get Orchitis which is basically inflammation of one or both of the testicles (ouch!). Though this sounds both painful and a little scary, it only leads to infertility in very, very rare cases, so don’t panic. Women who get mumps may also get inflammation of the ovaries which is even less likely to lead to infertility.
  • Hearing loss, in some rare cases of mumps hearing loss may be a long term side effect, this happens as the effected glands are so close to the ears.
  • Miscarriage, if you are pregnant (especially in the first few months of pregnancy) an infection of the mumps virus may lead to miscarriage and you should therefore take all possible precaution to prevent yourself from contracting mumps off someone who has the virus.
  • Pancreatitis, Meningitis, Encephalitis – These are all conditions that very rarely can develop out of a mumps infection. If you have a fever over 40C or 104 F that doesn’t respond to paracetemol and rehydration/cooling attempts you should visit a doctor. Visit appropriate pages for more details.


The MMR vaccine is a very effective form of prevention and if you had both of the recommended doses at the appropriate ages or if you have had mumps before you are most likely immune to the virus. This alongside practicing good hygiene, not sharing food and drink and avoiding anyone you know to have mumps will make it pretty easy to prevent yourself from getting the virus.

 However, immunity from the MMR can lapse as you get older. If you are about to start 6th form college or university, or have extensive travels plans such as a gap year to less developed countries you may need to consider getting an MMR booster (another shot of the vaccine) to help ensure your immunity.

Virsues are very easily spread in the college or university environment. You live lives on top of each in halls and you share food and drink without thinking about it too much which puts you at a higher risk. Some universities will even require you to get the booster before you begin. Travelling to foreign less developed countries, who do not widely vaccinate against mumps, will also increase your risk of contracting the illness.

How does the MMR vaccine work?

  • The vaccine works by giving you a very weak strain of the rubella virus, one that it can fight off without you even noticing
  • It gives your body the practice for when then real virus comes along and leaves behind rubella-specific  antibodies in your blood ready to react at the first sign of a new attack
    • 99% of those who get the vaccine are then fully protected from the virus

Do you need the MMR booster?

  • If you had two doses of the MMR vaccine after the age of 12 months then you are probably covered. However, if you are in one of the higher risks categories mentioned above or if you are doing work experience at a hospital you may want to get a simple blood test done, to check your immunity. If it comes back showing you are not immune it is almost definitely worth getting a booster which you can have done at your local doctors surgery.
  • If you did not have two doses of the vaccine as a child or if you had one before you were 12 months old you should definitely consider getting a booster or at the very least a blood test to check for immunity.

Side Effects of MMR vaccine

There are very few side effects of the MMR vaccine. You cannot develop mumps from the vaccine and most people who have it experience no side effects. As an adult getting the vaccination it is possible you may get

  • A mild fever
  • A rash
  • Some joint pain and aching
  • You should not get the vaccine if:
  • You are pregnant or plan to get pregnant in the next four weeks
  • If you have a severely compromised immune system or cancer
  • If you have a life threatening allergic reaction to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin

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