Even if you’ve never experienced the mumps, you’ve almost certainly heard of it. It’s a contagious disease caused by a virus that spreads from person-to-person through direct contact with, or through the saliva of, an infected person. It can be spread through a cough, a sneeze or through contact with contaminated surfaces. Believe it or not, mumps is on the rise. In the first two months of 2017, more than 1,000 cases of mumps were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) across 37 states and the District of Columbia. In 2015, the total reported cases for the full year was less than 2,000. Last year, the number of reported cases jumped to more than 5,000.
Blount Memorial Hospital’s infection control manager Ann Henry says mumps has a few primary symptoms. “Mumps will mainly affect the salivary glands,” she said. “If you’re fighting mumps, you’ll likely experience swelling in your jaw just below your ear, and your glands may feel sore and tender. This also will produce the puffy cheeks people normally associate with having mumps. Early mumps symptoms also will likely include fever, headache and fatigue, but some people can have the mumps and have no symptoms whatsoever,” she explained.
“Mumps typically is considered a childhood disease that most often impacts children between age 5 and age 9,” Henry continued. “But, that doesn’t mean adults are immune. In fact, when adults experience mumps, there’s an increased likelihood for serious complications. It can lead to meningitis, deafness or even encephalitis, and is especially dangerous to pregnant women as it can lead to an increased risk for miscarriage,” she said.
Henry says there is no specific mumps treatment. “If you begin to exhibit symptoms of the mumps, you’ll of course want to contact your health care provider,” she said. “He or she may provide you with a prescription, but you also can treat pain with over-the-counter pain medications as directed. You’ll also want to place ice packs or hot packs on or near the cheeks to relieve swelling and pain. Avoid drinking acidic beverages such as lemonade or orange juice, and stick to soft foods that don’t require a lot of chewing,” she explained.
Despite the increasing number of cases, mumps is preventable with vaccination. “The best way to keep from getting the mumps is to get the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine,” Henry said. “The CDC recommends all kids receive two doses of the MMR vaccine – one when they’re between 12 and 15 months old, and a second before they start kindergarten. This prepares their bodies to fight the virus when and if they come into contact with it. After the vaccine was developed and introduced in the 1960s, there was nearly a 99 percent decrease in reported mumps cases nationwide,” she added.