Mumps generally causes mild symptoms, and patients recover completely within days to weeks. However, it must be pointed out that in some cases, mumps can lead to severe health consequences. For instance, it may make men unable to have a child. To avoid such tragedy happening, we need to be more cautious about the disease.
Mumps is an infectious disease characterized by swelling of the jaw and cheeks. Although mumps is often considered as a childhood disease, it actually affects people of all ages. The causative agent of mumps is a virus that can be easily transmitted from one person to another. The use of mumps vaccines has greatly reduced the prevalence of mumps. But vaccines are never 100% effective. There is still a risk of outbreaks of mumps, particularly in regions of poor vaccine uptake. Occasionally, mumps can lead to severe complications, such as inflammation of the testicle (orchitis) that may result in infertility in men.
Symptoms of mumps begin 7-18 days after a person is exposed to the virus. This means that mumps has an incubation period. About one-third of people infected with the virus have no or slight symptoms. The common symptoms of mumps may be similar to that of a severe cold or a mild flu, and they may include:
Painful swelling of the salivary glands (including the parotid glands), situated below and in front of the ears
Loss of appetite
Fatigue or drowsiness
The swelling of the salivary glands generally lasts for several days, and many patients recover without treatment. Occasionally, however, the disease can result in secondary infections and severe complications.
Mumps is often considered a childhood disease. But it appears to be more likely to cause complications in adults. The disease rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but it sometimes may affect many other organs and tissues like the brain, spinal cord, testicles, ovaries, breast tissues, and kidneys. The complications of mumps include:
Orchitis, the inflammation of the testicles in males, can be caused by either a viral or bacterial infection. Many cases of orchitis are triggered by infection with the mumps virus. Some data shows that about 30% of boys with mumps will develop orchitis. Rarely, orchitis can cause permanent damage to men’s testicles and result in infertility. When married men who are unable to have a child come to their doctors, their doctors may ask them about their history of mumps. Therefore, mumps should not be neglected. If your children have mumps, it’s important to seek help from the doctor.
The causative agent of mumps is the mumps virus (MuV), which is a negative-sense single-stranded RNA virus and which is a member of the genus Rubulavirus in the family Paramyxoviridae. Humans are the only known natural host for MuV. The spreading way of MuV is very similar to that of a cold or the flu. Specifically, MuV is transmitted through contacting small droplets made by an infected person and through sharing personal items, foods, or other objects. A person infected with MuV is generally contagious before symptoms appear. This means that MuV can spread without recognition.
Fortunately, mumps vaccines like the MMR vaccine are available to prevent people from getting the disease. It’s estimated that mumps vaccines can induce protective antibodies in more than 90% of individuals. Although mumps vaccines do not have 100% efficacy, getting vaccinated is still one of the most important preventive strategies. Other preventive strategies for mumps include:
Avoid contacting with infected people
Avoid going to crowded places during outbreaks of mumps
Wash your hands frequently
Do not share personal items or foods
Clean your house
Seek medical care immediately
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze to avoid spreading the disease to other people when you get infected
The introduction of mumps vaccines has significantly reduced the prevalence of mumps. But there are still risks of outbreaks, and these outbreaks generally take place in regions with poor mumps vaccination rates. Mumps can occur all the year round. Paying attention to reports released by the local centers for disease control and prevention is important.
There are many serologic and virology tests used in the diagnosis of mumps, such as:
- Physical examination
Doctors perform a physical examination to determine the extent of inflammation in different tissues like the salivary glands in the patient.
- Ultrasound imaging
Ultrasound imaging can be used to examine the health of the testicles.
- Blood test
People with mumps may produce antibodies to fight the virus. Testing for antibodies against the virus in the blood is a simple diagnostic method, but it may lead to false negative results. In addition, most patients with mumps exhibit increased levels of an enzyme called amylase in their blood. Thus, measurement of serum amylase level is also a useful diagnostic method.
- Urine test
Mumps may cause changes in the urine, such as an increase in proteins, white blood cells or red blood cells. Doctors use a urine test to detect such changes.
- PCR test
PCR test is used to confirm the presence of the mumps virus. It requires the collection of samples such as a buccal swab specimen. This method is very sensitive and can be used for the molecular characterization of the mumps virus.
At present, there is no cure and no specific treatment for mumps. But there are supportive treatments and things you can do to make you feel better.
Use ice or heat packs to reduce the pain and swelling of the affected area
Take appropriate pain-killers to ease the pain
Drink enough water to stay hydrated
Gargle with warm salt water
Try popsicles to soothe your throat
Eat soft foods to avoid lots of chewing
Do not eat citrus fruits or juices that stimulate saliva production
Get enough rest
Author bioCaroline Liu is an editor at Cusabio, a biotech company that offers life sciences reagents as well as protein synthesis services. She contributes content on topics like infectious diseases.