How Mumps is Spread

Mumps is a painful viral infection that affects the salivary glands located along the lower jaw.

While this condition has been largely eliminated in developed world, it is still relatively common in developing countries and sometimes makes appearances in countries like the United States. Here is a look at how this condition is spread and what can be done to prevent it.

Mumps Symptoms

The most noticeable symptom of mumps is facial swelling. When this occurs, the face itself is not actually swelling; it’s actually the swelling of a person’s salivary glands that gives them the puffy appearance. Additional symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, decreased appetite, and pain when swallowing.

While these symptoms can sometimes be long-lasting and debilitating, some people find that they only experience mild symptoms or sometimes no symptoms at all. It’s important to note that even if a person doesn’t have severe symptoms, they are still contagious and can pass the virus onto others who may not be so lucky.

Transmitting Mumps

Mumps is spread through droplets of saliva or mucus from an infected person, which is known as oral transmission. A person can transmit mumps before he or she begins to display the telltale facial swelling associated with the disease, and this period can be as brief as 12 days or as long as 25. Patients remain contagious for about a week after the first symptoms begin to show.  

It’s possible to catch the disease in two ways. Direct transmission of mumps occurs when someone comes into direct contact with infected droplets—for example, being near an infected person when they sneeze or cough. However, indirect contact is also possible. The mumps virus can survive on surfaces outside of the human body, so touching a door handle or using objects that have been in contact with someone who is infected can also spread the disease.

Preventing Mumps

The best way to prevent the spread of mumps is to ensure that children (and adults who may have missed it) receive an MMR vaccine. Since the introduction of this immunization, which also protects against measles and rubella, yearly cases of the disease have dropped from about 150,000 to only a few hundred.

There are also some practical tips for preventing the spread of mumps. Regular hand washing with soap is one of the easiest but most effective ways to prevent not only mumps but also a host of other conditions as well. There is no set number of times per day that a person should be washing his or her hands, but it’s best to do it after coming into contact with surfaces in public places or in areas of the home that are frequently used.

It’s also beneficial to avoid sharing drinks or eating utensils, since infected droplets can persist on them for some time after they leave an infected person’s body. Finally, make sure the mouth and nose are covered by a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and be sure to dispose of the tissue immediately afterwards. If there isn’t a tissue available, cough into the crook of the elbow instead of directly into the hands.

Mumps Resurgence

In recent years, more cases of this disease than usual have been reported in the United States. There is an almost-unanimous consensus among medical professionals that this resurgence is due to parents refusing to immunize their children because of concerns over the safety of the MMR vaccine.

While it’s understandable that they would want to be cautious about the health of their children, this fear is based solely in misinformation and deception. In 1998 a study authored by Andrew Wakefield was published in The Lancet, one of the oldest medical journals in the world. This study claimed that children who received the vaccination were more likely to develop autism and bowel disorders than those who didn’t. However, The Lancet retracted the paper due to a conflict of interest when it was discovered that Wakefield, prior to submitting the study, was paid by an organization who was looking for negative information to use against vaccine manufacturers. It was additionally discovered that he manipulated the data from his study in order to give the appearance of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine.

Despite the thorough debunking of this study, Wakefield is still widely cited among parent organizations who are opposed to immunizing their children. While they may think that they are acting in the best interests of their kids, these parents are inadvertently putting them at risk of contracting diseases that are easily preventable but potentially deadly.