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Mumps: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About mumps

Mumps is a contagious viral disease, caused by the Paramyxovirus and characterized by “chipmunk cheeks”. It mainly affects the salivary glands (saliva producing glands of the mouth) and causes swelling and pain over the cheeks.

Mumps: Incidence, age & sex

Mumps usually affects children, but may occur at any age. However, it is uncommon in infants (less than one year old). It is more common in developing countries as compared to developed countries like the U.K. In recent times, the incidence of mumps infection has significantly reduced globally due to widespread use of highly effective vaccines.

Signs and symptoms of mumps: Diagnosis

The symptoms of the mumps start appearing 15 to 20 days after exposure to an infected person. The signs of mumps include high grade fever, headache, fatigue and loss of appetite initially. There will be swelling and pain over the salivary glands situated in the cheeks and below the jaw line. This gives rise to a peculiar look called as “chipmunk cheeks” which is considered a classical sign of mumps. Majority of patients may complain of pain while chewing and swallowing food or drinking. These typical signs of mumps generally resolve within a week and patient recovers within a fortnight.

Mumps is diagnosed on the basis of symptoms and classical physical appearance. The blood test usually shows low white cell counts and high levels of the serum protein amylase. In some cases saliva is taken from the patient’s mouth and sent for laboratory analysis to confirm the diagnosis.

Cause and prevention of mumps

Mumps is a contagious disease and the infection may be spread through either airborne droplets or saliva of an infected person. One can catch infection from coughing, sneezing or by touching contaminated objects of an infected person.

Mumps can be prevented successfully through vaccination. Generally, the vaccine is given as part of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunization to children during age of 12 to 15 months. A second booster dose of MMR is given at 4-6 years of age. However, the first attack of mumps mostly gives lifelong protection and it is very rare to have more than one episode of mumps.

Mumps: Complications

Generally, small children with mumps do not suffer from major complications; however adults may develop major complications after an episode of mumps. The complications associated with mumps include inflammation of various body parts such as the testes (orchitis) which may result into sterility. Other organs like the pancreas (pancreatitis), the ovaries (oophoritis) and the thyroid gland (thyroiditis) may also be afflicted. Some patients may have temporary to permanent hearing loss. Involvement of the brain tissue is seldom encountered, which may result in encephalitis or meningitis. If a woman develops mumps during the first 12-16 weeks of pregnancy, it may lead to spontaneous abortion.

Mumps: Treatment

Mumps is a viral infection. Therefore, there is no specific treatment available to cure mumps. Generally, the patients are treated symptomatically. Warm and cold packs help to relieve swelling and pain over the salivary glands. Sour and acidic foods must be avoided as they may aggravate pain. It is observed that supportive care like adequate rest; lots of liquid and soft chewable, nutritious diet, generally play a significant role in recovery of the patient.