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Frequently Asked Questions about Mumps and Related Vaccines

Q: What is mumps, and what are the symptoms?

A: Mumps is typically a mild but highly contagious acute viral infection characterized by the swelling and tenderness of one or more of the salivary glands on one or both sides of the face. A fever, headache, and mild tiredness or fatigue may precede the characteristic facial swelling by one to three days. The incubation period for mumps — which is essentially the period between infection and onset of symptoms — typically runs 16 to 18 days but can range from 12 to 25 days.

Symptoms usually last for approximately seven to 10 days and include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness/fatigue, loss of appetite, and the aforementioned swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears or jaw on one or both sides of the face (parotitis). It should be noted that some people  with mumps do not experience any symptoms; others experience mild symptoms without swollen glands.

Most people with mumps recover fully. However, mumps can occasionally cause complications, and some of them are serious.

Q: Is the MMR shot safe?

A: Yes. The Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) shot is very safe, and it is effective at preventing mumps (as well as measles and rubella). Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. But most children who get the MMR shot experience no side effects.

Q: Is there a link between the MMR shot and autism?

A: No. Scientists in the United States and other countries have carefully studied the MMR vaccine. No studies have found a link to autism. Click here for more.

Q: I got the vaccine but still got mumps. Does this mean the vaccine doesn’t work?

A: The MMR vaccine is not 100% effective. However, we know that the MMR vaccine prevents most cases of mumps and being vaccinated can reduce complications caused by the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have received two doses of the MMR vaccine are about nine times less likely to get mumps than unvaccinated people with the same exposure to the mumps virus. Should they contract the disease, they are also more likely to experience a less severe case of mumps. Most people in the U.S. receive the recommended two MMR vaccinations before the age of 6.

Some people who receive two doses of the MMR vaccine can still get mumps, especially if they have prolonged, close contact with someone who has the disease. If a vaccinated person does get mumps, they will likely experience a less severe illness than an unvaccinated person.

From year to year, the number of mumps cases in the U.S. can range from roughly 200 to several thousand. Due to outbreaks, some years see more cases of mumps than usual. See Mumps Cases and Outbreaks  for more information.

Q: Is mumps a serious disease?

A: Most people with mumps experience a mild illness and recover completely within a few weeks. Some confirmed cases have even been reported to have no notable symptoms. However, in some instances, the disease can cause serious complications, such as permanent deafness in children or swelling of the brain (encephalitis), which in rare cases has resulted in death.

In typical mumps cases, people feel tired and achy, and they have a fever and swollen salivary glands on the side of the face. Others may feel extremely ill and be unable to eat because of jaw pain, and a few will develop serious complications. Inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and loss of hearing can also occur, and in rare cases, this hearing loss can be permanent. The most serious complication is inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), which can lead to death or permanent disability. Men and women of adolescent age and older can experience swelling in their reproductive organs, as well.

Q: I’ve been told that I need to stay away from people while I’m sick with mumps. What does that mean, and why does it matter?

A: When you have mumps, you should avoid prolonged, close contact with other people until at least 48 hours after you are determined to be fever-free without fever-reducing medication and all of your symptoms, including facial swelling, have subsided. This period could last up to 10 days after symptom onset. During this initial period of illness, you are extremely contagious to others, including those who have received two doses of the MMR vaccine.

When you are sick with mumps, you should remain isolated from the community, which includes not going to work or school and avoiding public places like restaurants or shopping malls, etc. You should stay home and limit contact with the people you live with — for example, if possible, sleep alone in a separate room. Staying home while sick with mumps is an important way to avoid spreading the virus to other people. People who are infected with mumps don’t get sick right away – the time it takes for symptoms to appear after a person is exposed to the virus can range from 12 to 25 days. In other words: it can take two to four weeks to show signs of infection.

Q: What else should I do to prevent mumps from spreading?

A: In addition to staying away from others when you have mumps (or any other infection), you can help prevent the virus from spreading by:

Q: What should I do to protect myself from contracting mumps?

A: Make sure you are up-to-date on your MMR vaccine. If you have not been properly vaccinated, be sure to address this right away! Your doctor, local pharmacy, or local urgent care center should be able to help. Visit the Mumps Vaccination page to see recommendations for different groups.

Let your doctor or primary care provider know right away if you think that you or someone in your family may have mumps.

In any situation, including when there is a mumps outbreak, washing hands often with soap and water and having good health practices are the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.

Q: Did you know that there are recommended ways to wash your hands?

A: In warm, soapy water, scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end, twice. It takes a full 20 seconds to ensure proper washing.

Q: I am not up to date with my MMR vaccination. What should I do?

A: Call Loyola’s Student Health Center at (504) 865-3326 for more information, or visit a local pharmacy to receive the vaccination. If you are a student, take your proof of immunization to Student Health so that your records can be updated.