Mumps: symptoms, therapy and vaccination

Mumps: symptoms, therapy and vaccination

Mumps – or goat peter or parotitis epidemica – is a viral disease primarily affecting children. However, adults can also contract mumps. The most typical symptom is thick cheeks (hamster cheeks) caused by swelling of the parotid glands. Mumps is usually harmless, but serious complications can occur in adolescents and adults. That is why it makes sense to prevent mumps with a vaccination.

Mumps – what is it?

Mumps is a contagious viral disease that occurs worldwide. The viruses are spread by droplet infection, which means they can be transmitted when you cough or sneeze, for example. Infection is also possible through direct contact, such as kissing. Once you get mumps, you usually have immunity to the virus for the rest of your life.

After infection, the disease usually takes two to four weeks to break out. Mumps is already contagious before the first symptoms become noticeable: as a rule, there is a risk of infection seven days before and up to nine days after the first symptoms appear.

Mumps is particularly common in children between the ages of five and nine, so mumps, like measlesrubella and chickenpox, are counted among the typical childhood diseases. Mumps can occur all year round, but most cases are observed in winter and spring.


Symptoms of mumps

In about a third of those affected, mumps runs entirely without or with only non-specific symptoms. The signs can include a headache, sore throat or body aches, loss of appetite and a general feeling of tiredness. The body temperature is often elevated, or fever occurs. Because of these symptoms, mumps is sometimes confused with a common febrile cold.

While general disease symptoms are evident early, the parotid glands characteristically swell later. The swelling usually occurs first on one side and, with a slight delay, on the other. The swelling causes the hamster cheeks, typical of mumps, to form. The lymph nodes in the neck are often swollen as well. Due to the swelling, turning the head and chewing are often associated with pain.

In addition to the parotid glands, the mumps virus can also affect organs such as the pancreas and testicles and, in rare cases, the ovaries, lacrimal glands, thyroid gland, kidneys and central nervous system.

Mumps: Possible Complications

In children, mumps is usually harmless, and the disease has no consequences. However, serious consequences can sometimes occur if the infection occurs at a later point in time.

  • Inflammation of the meninges (meningitis): Meningitis is the most common complication in children. About three to ten per cent of children suffering from mumps are affected. Typical symptoms of meningitis are a severe headache coupled with a stiff neck. If the brain tissue is involved, one speaks of encephalitis – but this only rarely occurs in the context of mumps disease. If the cranial nerves are affected, hearing loss or deafness can result.
  • Inflammation of the testicles (orchitis): If the mumps virus infects the testicles after puberty, this can lead to infertility. Inflammation of the testicles is relatively joint in young men, and almost every third person is affected. Infertility can also occur in young women due to an infestation of the ovaries – however, such inflammation is much rarer in women than in men.
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis): Pancreatitis can manifest through symptoms such as loss of appetite, pain in the upper abdomen and greasy stools.

Other complications, albeit rare, can be inflammation of the mammary glands (mastitis) or inflammation of the heart muscle ( myocarditis ).


Mumps: Diagnose

Mumps can often be diagnosed based on the typical swelling of the parotid glands. If this swelling is not present, specific antibodies against the mumps virus in the blood can also detect the disease.

treat mumps

The mumps virus cannot be combated; only symptomatic therapy can be given. For example, fever-reducing painkillers can be administered. However, children should not be given painkillers with acetylsalicylic acid, as otherwise, the life-threatening Reye’s syndrome can occur.

Warm oil bandages and good oral hygiene help against the swelling of the parotid glands. Cooling the parotid glands is also often found to be pleasant. To minimize the pain when chewing, consuming soft, mushy food is recommended in the first place. Acidic liquids should be avoided; otherwise, the salivary glands will work more.

If complications arise, a doctor should always be consulted. He will decide whether further treatment measures are necessary. In the case of serious complications such as meningitis, hospital treatment is necessary.

Vaccination against mumps

There is a highly effective vaccination against mumps, usually given to children for the first time between the ages of 12 and 15 months. This vaccination is usually given as part of a combination vaccination against measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. The second vaccination is carried out at 15-23 months. There should be at least four weeks between the two vaccinations. The mumps vaccine is a live vaccine, which means that weakened pathogens are injected.


Mumps despite vaccination

Very rarely, you may get mumps despite vaccination. This is possible if the mumps vaccination has yet to work as desired. Possible causes include an incorrectly stored vaccine or an immune deficiency.

Since there are now two vaccinations against mumps, the virus is extremely rare in vaccinated people. Because the second vaccination is not a booster vaccination but a second vaccination, this is intended to catch those cases in which the first vaccination did not work.

frequency of the disease

Of the children who are not vaccinated against mumps, around 90 per cent become infected with the viral disease by age 15. In Germany, however, there are now relatively few cases of mumps since children are routinely vaccinated.

mumps in adults

Adults are even less likely to get mumps than children because most adults are either vaccinated or contracted the virus as children. After that, there is usually lifelong immunity.

Only about ten per cent of those who are not vaccinated against mumps do not contract the disease as children and can, therefore, still contract the virus as adults. In rare cases, a secondary infection is also possible. In adults, mumps runs much more frequently with complications than in children.


mumps during pregnancy

If pregnant women contract mumps, the virus can cause a miscarriage, especially in the first few months of pregnancy. However, it is not yet known that the disease can cause congenital disabilities or premature birth.

Newborns and infants whose mothers have been infected with mumps cannot become ill. They are protected by the mother’s antibodies for a few months.

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