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What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a germ. The most common symptom is swelling of the cheeks and jaw due to inflammation of one or both of the saliva glands near the ear and back of the jaw. However, up to half of the people with mumps may not have enough swelling to show. Other symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck and loss of appetite. Mumps is more common in children than in adults, but it can cause serious problems at any age.

Is mumps dangerous?

Mumps is usually a mild disease, however, it can cause complications. In one out of 4 men, mumps causes swollen testicles. In 1 out of 20 women, mumps causes swollen ovaries. This swelling can cause sterility, although this is rare.

Mumps sometimes causes problems in other organs, including the heart and joints, which can lead to permanent damage. The most serious problems caused by mumps are inflammation of the thin membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and inflammation of the brain itself (encephalitis). Meningitis occurs in one out of 10 children with mumps and can lead to deafness and other damage.

Mumps infection during the first trimester of pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage.

How is mumps spread?

The virus that causes mumps lives in the nose, mouth and throat and is sprayed into the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks. Other people nearby can then inhale the virus. Touching a tissue or sharing a cup used by someone with mumps can also spread the virus. People with mumps are contagious from 7 days before until 9 days after their glands start swelling. Symptoms most often appear 2 – 3 weeks after a person is exposed.

Who gets the mumps?

  • Anyone who never had mumps and has never been vaccinated.
  • Infants younger than 12 months old, because they are too young to be vaccinated.

How is mumps diagnosed?

Mumps is often diagnosed by its symptoms, but this is not always reliable. A blood test can be used to diagnose mumps.

How can you prevent mumps?

Protect your children by having them vaccinated when they are 12-15 months old, and again when they are about to enter kindergarten. Mumps vaccine is usually given in a shot called MMR, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. There are now many fewer cases of these three diseases because children get the MMR vaccine.

State regulations require certain groups to be vaccinated against mumps. Some health care workers, child care workers and all children in child care and preschool need to have one dose of mumps vaccine, usually given as the combination MMR vaccine. Students in kindergarten, grades 1 – 12 and college also need one dose of mumps vaccine, but usually have received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine for school entry. A blood test that proves immunity can also be used to fulfill this requirement for all groups.

Women who plan to have children and are not immune should get MMR at least 4 weeks before getting pregnant.

Is MMR vaccine safe?

Yes. It is safe for most people. However, a vaccine, like other medicines, can cause side effects in some people. The MMR vaccine can cause fever, mild rash, temporary pain or stiffness of the joints. More, severe problems, such as seizures, bleeding problems or allergic reactions are very rare. Getting MMR vaccine is much safer than getting mumps and most people do not have any problems with the vaccine.

Who should not get MMR vaccine?

  • People who have serious allergies to gelatin, the drug neomycin, or a previous dose of the vaccine.
  • Pregnant women or women who are trying to get pregnant within 4 weeks should not get MMR vaccine until after they deliver their babies.
  • People with cancer, HI, or other problems or treatments that weaken the immune system should check with their doctor or nurse before getting vaccinated.
  • People who have recently had a transfusion or were given other blood products should check with their doctor or nurse before getting vaccinated.
  • People with high fevers should not be vaccinated until after the fever and other symptoms are gone.

Where can I get more information?

  • Your doctor, nurse or clinic, or your local board of health (listed in the phone book under local government).
  • The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Immunization Program (617) 983-6800 or toll-free at (888) 658-2850 or on the MDPH Website at
  • Northeast Regional Office, Tewksbury (978) 851-7261
  • Central Regional Office, West Boylston (508) 792-7880
  • Southeast Regional Office, Taunton (508) 977-3709
  • Metro/Boston* Regional Office, Jamaica Plain (617) 983-6860
  • * Boston providers and residents may also call the Boston Public Health Commission at (617) 534-5611.

CDC National Immunization Information Hotline:

  • English: 1-800-232-2522 or Spanish: 1-800-232-0233 (Mon – Fri 8am – 11pm)
  • TTY: 1-800-243-7889 (Mon – Fri 10am – 10pm)

March 2004

Massachusetts Department of Public Health
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Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

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