Mumps used to be an achy, swollen-faced illness that most kids miserably weathered over a couple of weeks—while others dealt with complications that lasted a lifetime.
“Even with good vaccination rates, a single case of mumps in close spaces like dorms is going to spread like wildfire.”
Thanks to vaccines, mumps is dramatically less common than it used to be.
But cases have climbed in recent years and outbreaks still happen, especially in places where many people share limited space.
“Even with good vaccination rates, a single case of mumps in close spaces like dorms is going to spread like wildfire,” says Dr. Santhosh M. Nadipuram, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at the Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center.
Since 1989, when doctors started giving children 2 doses of the MMR vaccine, cases have dropped more than 99%. However, since 2006, outbreaks have spiked about every 5 years.
From January to June of 2019, 44 states and Washington, DC, reported 1,471 mumps cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The MMR vaccine is around 97% effective for measles after 2 doses. But it’s only 70-88% effective for mumps.
That’s pretty good protection, but doctors wish we had better, Dr. Nadipuram says.
“We’re going to see more cases, especially if vaccination rates start decreasing,” he says.
Outbreaks occur in close-knit communities, among church groups, in athletics facilities, and at colleges.
Early symptoms of the mumps tend to look like many common illnesses: a low fever and body aches.
Eventually, you’ll have swelling and discomfort in the salivary glands at the front of the neck and the parotid glands in front of the ears and cheeks. That causes the swollen face usually associated with mumps.
Other symptoms include:
• Muscle aches
• Loss of appetite
• Difficulty chewing
• Pain in the testicles
Mumps doesn’t cause serious complications as often as measles or rubella do, but Dr. Nadipuram says there are 2 main complications doctors worry about:
- Meningitis and encephalitis: In about 1 in 6,000 cases, the mumps virus can travel to the brain or spinal cord. This could result in swelling with serious complications, including deafness or death.
- Swelling in other glands: Other glands in the body can also swell, especially the testicles. This can be painful and may cause infertility.
“These complications are not common, but they are why we seek to prevent mumps,” Dr. Nadipuram says.
The MMR vaccine, while not perfect, is still a strong defense against mumps.
According to the CDC, people who get 2 doses of the MMR vaccine are around 9 times less likely to get mumps than unvaccinated people who have the same exposure to the virus.
If someone who was vaccinated does get mumps, they are likely to have a milder case than someone who didn’t get the vaccine.
Other steps to take:
- Limit your exposure to people with mumps.
- Keep children and others with swelling in their cheeks away from childcare facilities and schools for 5 days from the start of swelling.
- Cover your mouth and nose with tissue when you sneeze or cough.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water.
- Don’t share cups or water bottles.
- Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces like doorknobs, tables, and counters, as well as often-touched objects like toys.