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Mumps symptoms and complications - Is there a link between the MMR vaccine and autism?


boy with mumps symptoms

Children comming down with mumps symptoms is rare nowadays.

Before the introduction of a routine vaccination program more than 150.000 cases of mumps were reported each year.

Mumps was one of the common childhood diseases before the mumps vaccine became available in 1967.


What is mumps - Typical symptoms - Mumps complications - Mumps and infertility - Diagnosis and treatment - Pregnancy mumps - Mumps vaccine and Autism


What is mumps?

Mumps (infectious parotitis) is a mild but very contagious childhood disease that is caused by the Paramyxovirus. Mumps is generally a mild self limited disease and complications are less common in children than in adults.

The mumps virus is transmitted through saliva droplets when people cough, sneeze or talk. It can also be passed from one person to another by drinking from the same cup or if they touch items previously touched by an infected person and than toughing their mouth.



Typical Mumps Symptoms

About a third of children with mumps do not have any symptoms, especially the ones younger than 2 years.

The first mumps symptoms usually appear 14 to 24 days after being infected with the virus. How long are mumps contagious?

Mumps can be transmitted from 6 days before to 9 days after the parotid glands start to swell.

Others may show mumps symptoms like;

  1. Swelling and pain of the parotid glands. These glands are located under the ears and produce saliva (salivary glands). This swelling lasts between 4 to 8 days.
  2. Opening of the mouth and swallowing may be painful.
  3. Consuming of sour foods like citrus fruit or juice may be painful.
  4. General flu symptoms like headache, fever, muscle aches, loss of appetite and tiredness.


Mumps complications

Complications of mumps are more common in adults then in children. Some are very serious complications that need to be treated in hospital.

Possible complications include;

  1. Orchitis – Mumps orchitis causes pain and swelling of the testicles. A rare complication that occurs in 20% of men and teenage boys with mumps.
  2. Oophoritis – Pain and swelling of the ovaries. A complication that occurs in 5% of females after puberty.
  3. Pancreatitis occurs in about 4% of all cases. This complication causes pain in the abdomen and vomiting.
  4. Temporary or permanent hearing loss, but this is extremely rare.
  5. Viral meningitis in about 10% of the cases. A mild form of meningitis that usually lasts no longer than 14 days.


If a child infected with the mumps virus complains about headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, nausea and has a fever higher than 101 F you should call your doctor, this may be symptoms of viral encephalitis or meningitis.


Do mumps cause infertility?

A very unpleasant complication of mumps is an inflammation of the testicalls, called orchitis.

Fortunately only a small number of mumps cases are associated with orchitis.

Mumps orchitis may lead to poor sperm production and reduced fertility in men. In most cases this will last only for 6 to 12 months, while permanent infertility is very rare.


Diagnosis and treatment of mumps

The presence of swollen and painful parotid glands is often enough to diagnose the disease.

Sometimes there is no swelling of the salivary glands, and serologic antibody testing is done to confirm a diagnosis.

There is no existing medication to treat an infection with the mumps virus. What we can do is help the child by easing its mumps symptoms.

  1. Give Paracetamol or Ibuprofen for fever or pain.
  2. Give the child plenty of fluid. Try to avoid sour juices that may stimulate the painful saliva glands.
  3. By applying warm moist towels or ice packs on the neck.
  4. Give soft foods when chewing is painful.
  5. And of course plenty of rest.

You should keep children with mumps home from school or day care until 5 days after the onset of the mumps symptoms.

Children that recover from a mumps infection will have life long immunity to the virus.


Pregnancy mumps

If you are pregnant and get infected with mumps in the first 12 – 16 weeks there is an increased risk of fetal loss.

But there is no evidence that mumps during pregnancy causes fetal defects.
Mumps is very rare in infants younger than 12 months because of their passive acquired immunity.

Maternal antibodies passed through the placenta or during breastfeeding will protect a baby against mumps and other diseases during the first months of life.


Mumps vaccination and autism

The MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine is the best way to prevent mumps infections and its complications.

At the age of 12 to 15 months, babies are advised to get the first dose of the MMR vaccine, that will protect them from measles, mumps, and rubella. The second dose should be given between 4 and 6 years of age.

After several large outbreaks of mumps in college and high school students in the years between 2006 and 2009-2010, many people are uncertain of the effectiveness of the MMR vaccine.

Why are there outbreaks when nearly everybody is vaccinated? One of the reasons is because the vaccine does not provide complete immunity against the virus. Let’s say the effectiveness of the vaccine is 80% after the first dose and 90% after the second dose.

Another reason is because many parents became very worried about the safety of the MMR vaccine. Ever since Wakefield published his report inĀ The LancetĀ of February 1998 claiming that the MMR vaccine may trigger autism, vaccinations have dropped.

Even though the latest research shows that there is no evidenve that there is a link between MMR vaccine and autism, a large part of the population continues to believe that the vaccine increases the risk of autism. Many parents continue to have doubts because they still have not found the exact cause for this disorder. This is also why vaccination levels have dropped especially among families that already have a child with autism.

What parents do need to remember is that Measles, Rubella, and Mumps are contagious diseases that can lead to serious complications and even cause death. The decission not to vaccinate your child can lead to a come-back of these illnesses and put other children at risk like babies younger than 12 months and children with an impaired immune system.



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