Mumps is a contagious virus, spread by infected droplets of saliva released into the air by coughing. Mumps causes the salivary glands – the parotid gland in front of the ears, in particular – to become painfully swollen, giving the side of the infected person’s face and ears a more pronounced and enlarged appearance. This is the main symptom, which is often accompanied by fever, headache, and joint pain.
The mumps virus is now rare in the Western world due to vaccination, but was once a common childhood disease.
Mumps is not usually a serious condition, but because it shares symptoms with some more serious infections (such as glandular fever and tonsillitis), a visit to the GP is recommended. There is no cure, and the infection usually passes within a week or two. Painkillers may be recommended to reduce swelling and pain. Fruit juice may best be avoided, as it can stimulate the parotid gland and increase pain, but be sure to give your child plenty of water.
Serious complications are rare, but mumps can lead to viral meningitis, and testicular (orchitis) or ovarian (oophoritis) inflammation in post-puberty patients.