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If you grew up before the mumps vaccine became available, you might remember your experience with the disease, particularly the uncomfortable swelling on the side of one or both cheeks. These swollen salivary glands are the most characteristic sign of mumps, which is caused by a virus and usually spread through coughing. It occurs most often in children and teenagers 5 to 14 years old, but a vaccine has turned it into a very uncommon infection. There are now less than 500 reported cases in the United States each year.

Signs and Symptoms

Most often, mumps affects the parotid glands, which are located between the jaw and ear. In addition to swelling, the region can become painful when touched or while chewing, especially when consuming foods that stimulate the release of salivary juices or drinking orange juice or other juices that are acidic. Other symptoms may include

  • Fever lasting 3 to 5 days
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Occasional vomiting
  • Weakness
  • A decrease in appetite
  • Swelling and pain in the joints (and in boys, of the testes)

A child with mumps will become contagious beginning a day or two before the swelling begins, and the contagious period will continue for about 5 days after the swelling has started. (It’s interesting to note that approximately one third of those infected with mumps do not show obvious swelling.) As a general guideline, keep your child with mumps away from school and child care for 9 days after the gland swelling has begun.

What You Can Do

Here are some home care steps to keep in mind for a child with mumps.

  • Make sure she gets plenty of rest.
  • Feed her soft, non-citrus foods that can be easily chewed and swallowed.
  • Encourage her to drink extra fluids to prevent dehydration

When to Call the Pediatrician

Notify your doctor if your child’s condition becomes worse, especially if she develops abdominal pain, shows an unusual lack of energy, or (for boys) his testicles become painful.

Last Updated
Immunizations &Infectious Diseases: An Informed Parent's Guide (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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