Mumps is caused by a virus and is spread by close contact or by coughing and sneezing. The incubation period of the virus is 2-3 weeks. Your child remains infectious for a week after the symptoms show up.
When mumps starts, your child might have a fever and feel generally unwell. You’ll probably notice swelling in front of your child’s ear and under his chin on at least one side, although swelling might appear on both sides. This might cause pain when he chews or swallows. (The swelling is in the parotid and salivary glands.)
Complications are rare, but can include inflammation of the testes in boys. This usually doesn’t cause problems with your child’s future fertility. Meningitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) can also occur as a result of mumps.
When to see your doctor
You should see your doctor if:
- you think your child has mumps
- your son has mumps and develops a swollen, tender testicle
- your child has mumps and complains of a severe headache, becomes drowsy, starts vomiting and can’t stand bright light.
There’s no specific treatment for mumps. The best you can do is treat the symptoms – for example, using paracetamol to lower fever and reduce pain.
Try to avoid giving your child sour foods, because this can stimulate her salivary glands and cause further pain.
A liquid diet might help your child feel better, because chewing often causes discomfort.
Routine immunisation for mumps is now given to all children, in combination with measles and rubella vaccines. This is a vaccine commonly known as MMR, combining vaccinations for mumps, measles and rubella (German measles). In Australia, it’s currently recommended that your child gets his first MMR dose at 12 months and his second at four years of age. Immunising your child with these two doses gives your child immunity against mumps in approximately 95% of cases.
Some parents are concerned that the MMR vaccine is associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but no link has been found. If you have any concerns, you can discuss them with your doctor.