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Mumps Alert! – Understanding Mumps

As there has been a significant increase in the number of mumps cases in South Africa recently, it is important that our patients understand this illness. This article outlines what mumps is, how it is recognised and diagnosed and how to treat and prevent it.

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What is Mumps?

Mumps is a highly contagious viral infection that primarily affects the salivary glands, causing them to swell and become painful (parotitis). It is caused by the mumps virus, which a single-stranded RNA virus of the Paramyxoviridae family. It can spread easily from person to person through respiratory droplets or direct contact with infected saliva. While mumps can affect individuals of any age, it is most commonly seen in children.

Symptoms of Mumps:

The incubation period for mumps before symptoms is between 12 and 25 days. However, the patient is infectious from about 7 days before to 8 days after parotitis develops. Most transmission occurs just before and 5 days after parotitis onset. 

Initially, the patient will develop:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue 

After about 48 hours, the patient develops:

  • Parotitis – swelling and tenderness of one or both salivary glands (located below the ears)
  • Pain while chewing or swallowing.

Usually, most people recover from mumps without any problems, but the virus can rarely go on and cause some rather nasty complications, especially in adults, such as:

  • Meningitis (infection of the membranes around the brain)
  • Orchitis (testis infection) in men – a cause of sterilisation.
  • Oophoritis (ovary infection) in women
  • Pancreatitis (pancreatic infection)
  • Myocarditis (heart infection)
  • Thyroiditis (thyroid infection)
  • Hearing loss

Preventing Mumps:

  • Vaccination: The most effective way to prevent mumps is through vaccination. The MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine protects against mumps. It is recommended that children receive two doses of the vaccine, with the first dose given at 12-15 months and the second dose at 4-6 years of age. If you are unsure about your vaccination status or have not been vaccinated, consult your healthcare provider.
  • Good Hygiene Practices: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after coughing, sneezing, or being in public places. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of droplets. Avoid sharing personal items like utensils, cups, or towels with infected individuals.

What to Do If You Suspect Mumps:

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms that may indicate mumps, it is important to take the following steps:

  • Contact a healthcare professional: Inform your healthcare provider about your symptoms and seek medical advice. They will guide you on the appropriate actions and may conduct tests to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Isolate yourself: Stay home from work, school, or public places to prevent further virus transmission to others. Avoid close contact with individuals who have not been vaccinated or at higher risk of complications from mumps, such as infants, pregnant women, or individuals with weakened immune systems.
  • Manage the symptoms: Get plenty of rest, drink fluids to stay hydrated, and use over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers (under the guidance of a healthcare professional) to alleviate discomfort. Applying warm or cold compresses to swollen areas may also provide relief.


Mumps is a viral infection that can spread quickly but can be prevented through vaccination and good hygiene practices. If you suspect mumps, consult a healthcare professional, follow their advice, and take necessary precautions to prevent further transmission. By staying informed and taking appropriate measures, we can protect ourselves and our communities from mumps in South Africa.

For the latest information and guidance on mumps, consult trusted sources such as the South African Department of Health or the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Remember, knowledge and proactive measures are key to keeping mumps at bay and safeguarding our health.