Most people think of mumps as something that only affects children. However, the mumps can occur at any age. In fact, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases reported that in 2008, 54 percent of the reported cases of mumps occurred in individuals ages 15-59. When adults contract the disease, they are at an increased risk of experiencing specific symptoms or complications.
How It Occurs
Mumps is an acute viral disease that is spread from person to person through respiratory droplets (like from a cough or a sneeze). It can also be spread through direct contact with items that have been contaminated by infected saliva. The incubation period (the time between exposure to the virus and the development of symptoms) is 12 to 24 days. That leads to an increased chance of someone who has mumps infecting others without realizing it.
There are several environments in which adults are at a higher risk of being exposed to the mumps virus. Often, these environments are either places where people are living in close quarters or have regular close contact with children. People who are at an increased risk for mumps include:
- College students
- Child care workers
- Day care personnel
- Health care professionals
- International travelers
There are a variety of symptoms associated with the mumps, including:
- Face pain
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- Sore throat
- Swelling of the parotid glands (located between the ear and the jaw)
- Swelling of the temples
- Swelling of the jaw
In general, most of the symptoms of the mumps are similar in children and adults, and about 30 to 40 percent of the cases of mumps may involve no symptoms. However, there are a few symptoms that occur specifically in adults. A fair amount of adolescent and adult males who have mumps could experience pain, swelling or lumps in the testicles. In addition, some adults may experience their symptoms more intensely.
Mumps are caused by a virus, so antibiotics can’t be used to treat the condition. Fortunately, mumps usually just runs its course like most other viral illnesses. Children and adults alike are generally considered to be no longer contagious one week after being diagnosed with mumps. Full recovery occurs within two weeks for most individuals with the disease.
Adults should try to stay home from school or work during the period where they are considered to be still contagious. Though it isn’t possible to really make recovery happen faster, there are several at-home remedies to help those with mumps feel better as the illness runs its course. Those remedies include:
- Getting lots of rest
- Using a cold compress on swollen glands
- Drinking lots of fluids
- Avoiding foods which stimulate saliva production, such as citrus fruits or juices
- Avoiding foods that require lots of chewing
- Taking acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Using an athletic supporter for tender testicles
- Isolating yourself from others to prevent spread of the disease
Although complications of mumps are rare, they are more likely to occur in adults who contract the disease as opposed to children. Unfortunately, the potential complications of mumps can be very dangerous or, in some cases, even fatal. These side effects may become permanent if they go untreated. The rare complications of mumps include:
- Encephalitis (an infection of the brain)
- Aseptic meningitis
- Kidney problems
- Pancreas problems
- Inflammation of the ovaries
- Inflammation of the testicles
To avoid any of these potential complications, see a doctor right away if you experience any eye redness, persistent drowsiness, persistent abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, severe headaches or testicular pain or lumps. These may signal a possible complication and require immediate medical attention.
Fortunately, there is a safe and effective vaccine for the mumps which adults can get. The MMR vaccine protects against three diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. It is normally given to children between the ages of 12 to 15 and then again between the ages of 4 and 6. However, adults can also receive the vaccine if they did not receive it as a child for some reason.
When adults receive the MMR immunization, they are at risk for some side effects, including low-grade fever, rash and swelling of the salivary glands in the cheeks and neck. Adult women in particular are susceptible to experiencing these side effects as a result of receiving the vaccine. Although there is a very small risk for serious problems to occur as a result of getting the vaccine (as with any vaccine), the risks of getting the mumps as an adult are much greater than not getting the mumps vaccine. According to AdultVaccination.org, the MMR vaccine is recommended for all adults who were born in or after 1957 unless they have proof of immunity or cannot receive the vaccination due to allergies or certain health conditions.