What are The mumps?

Short Answer

Mumps is caused by a virus that’s spread through coughing and sneezing. People can also catch the mumps by touching a surface that has been coughed or sneezed on by an infected person, then touching their own mouth or nose. Mumps typically starts with a few days of fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite, and is followed by swelling of salivary glands (under the ears and below the jaw). Right now, there is no specific treatment for the mumps. The mumps vaccine is 88% effective at preventing mumps after two doses, and is included in the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) and the MMRV (measles-mumps-rubella-varicella) combination vaccines.



Symptoms & Incubation

Mumps usually causes the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite (not wanting to eat)
  • Painful swollen glands under the ears or jaw

It can take anywhere from 15-18 days after infection to show any symptoms. Many people experience these symptoms for seven to 10 days, while some people with mumps have no symptoms. Others feel sick but do not have swollen glands. Mumps can spread before swollen glands appear and for five days afterward. Children with mumps should stay home from school or child-care settings for at least five days to avoid spreading the disease to others.


In most children, mumps is pretty mild, but it can cause serious, lasting problems. These include meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord) and deafness. In rare cases, mumps is deadly.


The mumps virus is spread from person to person by respiratory droplets (for example, when you sneeze) or by direct contact with items that have been contaminated with infected saliva.


The MMR vaccine is a shot that combines vaccines for three diseases—measles, mumps, and rubella. Almost all children (nine children out of 10) who get two doses of the MMR vaccine will be protected from mumps. Another version, MMRV, also includes the vaccine for varicella (chicken pox).

Safety & Side Effects
The MMR vaccine is very safe, and it is effective at preventing mumps (as well as measles and rubella). Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Most children who get the MMR vaccine have no side effects. Those that do occur are typically very minor and may include the following:

  • Fever in one out of six people
  • Mild rash in one out of 20 people
  • Swollen glands in the cheeks or neck in very few people
  • Fever high enough to cause a seizure (jerking or staring) occurs in one out of 3,000 people. These seizures do not cause any long-term harm.
  • Temporary joint pain and stiffness (mostly in teens and adults)

Serious allergic reaction to the MMR vaccine occurs in fewer than one in a million people.

The vaccine does not cause autism. There are a couple of reasons why people believe autism is linked to vaccination. The first is because sometimes signs of autism don’t appear until around the age the MMR vaccine is given. If a child is diagnosed shortly after getting vaccinations, this may seem like cause and effect.

Another reason some people think MMR is linked to autism is because of a study published in 1998 in the United Kingdom journal The Lancet. One of the authors claimed that the MMR vaccine could contribute to the development of autism. The publishers later retracted the article when they discovered it was false, and 10 out of 13 of the study’s authors have withdrawn their support of the study. Since then, 12 large-scale studies have produced no evidence that children who receive the MMR vaccine are at greater risk of autism than those who don’t.



Children should get two doses of the MMR vaccine at the following ages for best protection:

  • The first dose at 12 through 15 months; and
  • The second dose at 4 through 6 years.

They can get MMR at the same time as other vaccines.


Since the Vaccine Was Introduced…

Before the MMR vaccine, about 200,000 people got sick with mumps each year in the U.S. That number has dropped dramatically since the vaccine was introduced in 1967.

Mumps outbreaks occurred in the United States in 2006 and 2009, making thousands of people sick. If vaccination rates were lower, these outbreaks would have been much larger.