Mumps is a contagious viral infection that used to be common in children.

It’s most recognisable by the painful swellings at the side of the face under the ears (the parotid glands), giving a person with mumps a distinctive "hamster face" appearance.

Other symptoms include headache, joint pain and a high temperature, which may develop a few days before the swelling of the parotid glands.

Read more about the symptoms of mumps.

When to see your GP

It's important to contact your GP if you suspect that you or your child has mumps, so a diagnosis can be made.

Let your GP know in advance if you are coming to the surgery, so they can take any necessary precautions to prevent the spread of infection.

While mumps is not usually serious, the condition has similar symptoms to more serious types of infection, such as glandular fever and tonsillitis.

Read more about diagnosing mumps.

Who is affected

Before the introduction of the MMR vaccine in 1988, mumps was a common infection in school-aged children. It was responsible for about 1,200 hospital admissions a year in England and Wales.

Mumps is much less common now, with most cases occurring in younger people (usually born between 1980 and 1990) who didn’t receive the MMR vaccine as part of their childhood vaccination schedule or didn't have mumps as a child. There were 2466 confirmed cases of mumps in England and Wales during 2012.

Once you have been infected by the mumps virus, you normally develop a life-long immunity to further infection.

How mumps is spread

Mumps is spread in the same way as colds and flu - through infected droplets of saliva that can be inhaled or picked up from surfaces and transferred into the mouth or nose.  

A person is most contagious a few days before the symptoms develop and for a few days afterwards.

During this time, it's important to prevent the infection spreading to others, particularly teenagers and young adults who have not been vaccinated.

If you have mumps, you can help prevent it spreading by regularly washing your hands with soap, using and disposing of tissues when you sneeze, and avoiding school or work for at least five days after your symptoms first developed.

Preventing mumps

You can protect your child against mumps by making sure they are given the combined MMR vaccine (for mumps, measles and rubella).

The MMR vaccine is part of the routine NHS childhood immunisation schedule. Your child should be given one dose when they are around 12-13 months and a second booster dose before they start school. Once both doses are given, the vaccine provides 95% protection against mumps.

Treatment for mumps

There is currently no cure for mumps, but the infection should pass within one or two weeks.

Treatment is used to relieve symptoms and includes using painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, and applying a warm or cool compress to the swollen glands to help relieve pain.

Read more about treating mumps.


Mumps will usually pass without causing serious damage to a person's health. Serious complications are rare.

However, mumps can lead to viral meningitis if the virus moves into the outer layer of the brain. Other complications include swelling of the testicles in males or the ovaries in females (if the affected male or female has gone through puberty).

Read more about the complications of mumps.

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