Mumps is a highly contagious viral disease that causes painful swelling of
the parotid glands, the largest of the three major salivary glands, located in
the cheeks. The disease usually strikes children and adolescents, and is
generally self-limited, which means that the virus usually clears up completely
after running its course without long-term complications. Prior to the
introduction of a mumps vaccine in 1967, about half of all children contracted
mumps. Since then, the incidence of the disease has decreased approximately 99%
in the United States, with only about 1500 cases reported each year. A person
develops lifelong protection against mumps after having the disease one
Signs and Symptoms
Mumps is accompanied by the following signs and symptoms:
Swelling of the salivary glands in the face and jaw line
Fever, chills, headache, loss of appetite, and a general feeling of
Pain when chewing or swallowing
Orchitis, or inflammation of the testicles (in up to 25% of males who
get the disease after they reach puberty)
Symptoms usually start 14 to 24 days after infection with the
What Causes It?
Mumps is caused by a virus (paramyxovirus) spread through infected saliva.
Most symptoms are the result of direct infection of the salivary glands, testes,
pancreas, eyes, ovaries, or kidneys. There may be central nervous system
involvement as well.
Who's Most At Risk?
People who are not immunized, particularly children and adolescents, are at
risk for developing mumps. Mumps most often occurs in children between 5 and 9
years of age.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with mumps, you should see your
healthcare provider. He or she will check for swelling in the facial region,
especially below the ear and above the jaw. Lab tests using samples from the
throat, cerebrospinal fluid, blood, or possibly urine can reveal the presence of
the virus. Routine hearing tests may be performed on young children to detect
any temporary or, rarely, permanent loss.
Vaccination is the key to preventing mumps. The live mumps virus is
approximately 95% effective in preventing the disease. The vaccine is available
alone or as the combination vaccine of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), and usually
lasts at least 20 years with very few side effects. It is generally given at age
15 months, but may be given to adolescents and adults as well. Women should not
be vaccinated during pregnancy and people with severe fever or allergies to eggs
will need to discuss vaccination with their healthcare provider.
A person with mumps should be kept out of school or work for 7 to 10 days
after symptoms begin, as he or she is considered contagious during that period.
The patient should eat soft foods, avoid acidic foods and beverages, such as
citrus or tomato products, and take pain relievers as needed. A male with
swollen testicles should rest in bed until symptoms subside. Pain may be
relieved with ice packs, or by supporting the scrotum with cotton or gauze, or
an athletic supporter. Your healthcare provider may perform a hearing test on
young children who develop mumps, to detect any possible loss of hearing. If the
patient develops pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) with nausea and
vomiting, the provider may administer IV fluids. Please see the monograph on
Pancreatitis for further information.
No medications other than pain relievers are needed for uncomplicated cases
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
The mumps virus normally resolves on its own; therefore, treatment is meant
to relieve symptoms. There is a possibility that acupuncture may help clear up
mumps faster; other CAM therapies may also support recovery by reducing
As mentioned above, avoid acidic foods, as they can increase the release of
enzymes from your parotid glands. Drink lots of fluids in frequent small sips.
Vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc may help support your immune system.
To treat viruses in general, herbalists may recommend herbs that stimulate
the immune system, reduce fever, and fight microbes. These include echinacea
(Echinacea spp.), peppermint (Mentha piperita), onion (Allium
cepa), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), elder (Sambucus nigra),
and mullein (Verbascum thapsus). So far studies have not been done to
determine whether these herbs can treat mumps specifically. To use any herbs
safely and effectively, it is best to see a specialist trained in herbal
There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific
homeopathic remedies. A professional homeopath, however, may recommend one or
more of the following treatments for mumps based on his or her knowledge and
clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a
person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is
his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced
homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate
remedy for a particular individual.
Aconitum — useful for childhood
illnesses including the mumps, particularly when onset is sudden and the
individual has a fever
Belladonna — most common treatment for
mumps, particularly if it comes on rapidly; this remedy is most appropriate for
individuals who have a throbbing headache, flushed face, and burning sensations
in the throat
Mercurius — for mumps with swelling
that is worse on the right side, excessive foul-smelling perspiration and
Phytolacca — for mumps in which glands
feel swollen and hard; symptoms also include pale skin, a sore throat that
radiates to the ear, pain when the tongue is extended, and difficulty swallowing
(particularly hot foods)
Pilocarpinum — for mumps with
excessive perspiration and salivation, as well as considerable thirst;
considered by some homeopaths to be the best remedy for this purpose
Pulsatilla — for the later stages of
mumps, especially in adults or children approaching puberty; this remedy is most
appropriate for individuals who have a dry mouth and fever (but are not thirsty)
and have mumps that involve the breasts, ovaries, or testicles; symptoms tend to
worsen at night and in warm rooms; open air brings some relief
Rhus toxicodendron — for mumps with
swelling that is worse on the left side; this remedy is most appropriate for
individuals who have cold sores, sensitivity to cold temperature, and aching
limbs that are worse at night and when the individual first begins moving from a
rested position; aching limbs tend to improve with continuous
Acupuncture may make mumps less severe and shorten its course. However, it is
difficult to test such claims since the mumps infection normally resolves on its
own within 7 to 14 days. The following case reports from Chinese journals
describe the use of acupuncture for mumps.
One study reviewed 1000 cases of mumps in children ages 5 to 10 years old,
all of whom suffered from common symptoms of mumps. They were treated with ear
needling. In all cases, symptoms improved or resolved completely, some after
only one treatment and all within five treatments. The earlier the child was
treated after symptoms started, the fewer acupuncture treatments they needed.
Again, it is difficult to tell what this means for mumps treatment; for
instance, it is not clear whether all the cases of mumps were diagnosed
correctly initially. However, the results raise the possibility that acupuncture
may help support treatment for mumps.
A report of 108 cases of acute mumps in patients ages 3 months to 24 years
showed similar results. Patients had been ill for 1 to 4 days when they saw the
acupuncturist. Again, in all cases, symptoms improved or resolved completely,
some within one treatment, most within three, and all within five treatments.
The reported success rate was 95%. However, as with the previous report, it is
difficult to draw clear conclusions from this report about how well acupuncture
works for mumps.
For uncomplicated cases of mumps, the prognosis is excellent. Complications
are more likely in individuals who have reached puberty and beyond; these may
include meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brain and its membranous
coverings), deafness, orchitis, pancreatitis, and miscarriage in early
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Review Date: October 2000
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Peter Hinderberger,
MD, PhD, Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center, Baltimore, MD; David Winston,
Herbalist, Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ; Leonard Wisneski, MD,
FACP, George Washington University, Rockville,
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