Mark Pasternack, MD, chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, answers questions about mumps, an acute and highly contagious viral illness.
What everyone should know about mumps
On May 13, the Boston Public Health Commission issued a mumps health alert after three confirmed cases –
all people who had received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine – were reported in the city, and 11 suspected cases are currently being investigated. Mark Pasternack, MD, chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, answers questions about the acute and highly contagious viral illness.
What is mumps and how is it contracted?
Mumps is a viral illness spread through infected respiratory secretions. It can be spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes within three to six feet of another person or with direct contact with infected secretions, such as shared eating utensils or water bottles.
What are the symptoms of mumps?
Mumps begins with mild flu-like symptoms – low-grade fever, muscle aches, mild respiratory symptoms, loss of appetite and headache – and commonly causes salivary glands to swell on one or both sides of the face. Some patients may have mumps without any specific symptoms at all, and occasionally patients may have more severe symptoms.
Do only children get mumps?
Among unvaccinated individuals, mumps is most commonly a childhood illness. For vaccinated individuals, mumps commonly occurs in young adults and older individuals.
What are the possible complications?
In rare cases, patients may develop severe illness leading to inflammation of the central nervous system (meningitis or encephalitis), testes, ovaries, kidneys, heart or joints. Hearing loss and miscarriage early in pregnancy may also occur.
My child or teen was vaccinated with the MMR vaccine, should I be worried?
Mumps vaccine is highly effective and protects 80 to 90 percent of vaccinated individuals, but the protective effect of mumps vaccine may decline over time. Most vaccinated individuals who developed mumps in recent epidemics did so at least 10 to 15 years after their second vaccine dose.
What should I do if I think my child or teen has mumps?
People with symptoms suggestive of mumps, particularly with salivary gland swelling, should contact their health care providers, who can obtain the simple screening tests necessary to confirm the diagnosis of mumps. Patients with suspected mumps should remain at home for at least five days after the onset of swelling. Those with possible complications should be evaluated promptly.
I thought the mumps was an old-fashioned disease, why is it the upswing?
Mumps outbreaks are thought to develop among vaccinated individuals due to gradual loss of immune protection, possible mismatches between the vaccine and the current mumps virus strains, and increased risk of viral spread due to close contact with infected individuals among young adults. Many epidemics have been associated with an unvaccinated individual returning from overseas travel to regions where mumps vaccine is not routinely administered.
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