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Immune system
Mumps is often regarded as a common childhood disease that everybody catches and recovers from easily. In fact, thanks to immunisation, the number of people in the UK affected by the disease has fallen dramatically. However, the disease still occurs in the UK and since 1999 there has been an increase of confirmed cases in adolescents and young adults who were too old to be offered vaccination when the vaccine was introduced in 1988, and who have not picked up natural immunity when they were young children.

Mumps is a highly infectious disease, if someone does catch mumps it can affect the nervous system causing deafness, headache, meningitis and encephalitis. It can also cause sterility in men.
Mumps is caused by a virus. It is spread through droplets from coughing and sneezing by someone infected with the virus. The incubation period, that is the time taken for the disease to develop after being infected with the virus, is about 17 days. Individuals are infectious from several days before the parotid glands (salivary glands in the side of the neck) swell to several days later.
The symptoms of mumps start like a bad cold with a high temperature, headache, muscle pain, loss of appetite and a general feeling of being unwell, followed by the characteristic swelling of the glands at the side of the neck. Swelling normally occurs on both side of the neck, but sometimes it may only affect one side. Swallowing can be painful. In some children with a very mild form of the disease, symptoms may go unnoticed.


In the UK, most children are routinely vaccinated against mumps with a vaccine known as MMR which also protects against measles and rubella. Children are given the vaccine between 12 and 18 months of age and then given a booster between 4 and 5 years. Infants from 6 months of age travelling to countries where mumps is still a problem should also be vaccinated with MMR. As the vaccine is less effective when given early, these children will need two further doses of the vaccine at the recommended ages to ensure that they are adequately protected.

It is common for children to develop a mild fever and rash after the immunisation and generally feel a bit grizzly. The recommended dose of paracetamol is advised if the child develops a temperature.

There has been much publicity about giving a single vaccine for each disease separately, rather than giving the combined triple vaccine (MMR) to protect against all three diseases, through the misunderstanding that MMR may cause bowel disease or autism. The conclusion of experts from all over the world, including the World Health Organization, is that there is no link between MMR vaccines and bowel disease or autism. The World Health Organization advises against using separate vaccines for the simple reason that doing so would leave children at risk and offer no benefits. No country in the world recommends giving MMR as three separate vaccines. Giving the vaccines separately may be harmful because it leaves children open to the risk of catching measles, mumps or rubella. By having them all at once, your child is protected against all three diseases as soon as they have had the MMR injection.
When to consult your pharmacist
You can obtain paracetamol from your local pharmacy without the need for a prescription to help reduce your child's temperature following immunisation. Always check the label of medicines to make sure that you are not giving your child too much paracetamol. Aspirin should not be used in children under 16 years of age to lower high temperatures or for pain relief.
When to consult your doctor
If you think you or your child have the symptoms of mumps you should consult your doctor. After MMR vaccination, your child may feel grizzly but if crying is prolonged or there is a persistent rash or fever, you should see your doctor. Swelling might occur at the injection site but is not normally any larger than the surface area of a 10p coin, any larger swelling should be checked by your doctor.
Useful Tips
  • If your child develops a fever after childhood immunisation for MMR, sponging with cool water can help get their temperature down
  • Make sure your baby or child drinks lots of fluids