Outbreaks of mumps have become widespread around the country, according to the HSE. But what exactly is mumps and what are the symptoms?

Mumps is a highly contagious viral infection and the most common symptom is a swelling of the parotid glands.

When a person get mumps, the virus moves from their respiratory tract (nose, mouth and throat) into their parotid glands, where it begins to reproduce. This causes inflammation and swelling of the glands.

The glands are located on both sides of the face and the swelling gives a person a distinctive 'hamster face' appearance.

What are the symptoms of mumps?

The HSE says the symptoms of mumps usually develop between 14 and 25 days after a person is infected with the virus. The average incubation period is around 17 days.

The swelling of the parotid glands, which produce saliva, is the most common symptom of mumps.

They are located on either side of the face, just below the ears.

Both glands are usually affected by the swelling, although in some cases only one gland is affected.

The swelling causes additional symptoms, including:

  • pain and tenderness in the swollen glands
  • pain on swallowing and/or difficulty swallowing.

Other symptoms of the mumps include:

  • headache
  • joint pain
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • mild abdominal pain
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • high temperature (fever) of 38ºC or above.

The HSE advises people to contact their GP if they suspect that they, or their child, has mumps.

While the infection is not usually serious, mumps share symptoms with other more serious types of infection, such as glandular fever and tonsillitis.

People are advised to visit their GP so that they can confirm, or rule out, a diagnosis of mumps.

How do you treat mumps?

There are currently no anti-viral medications that can be used to treat mumps.

As a result, treatment is focused on relieving symptoms until the body's immune system manages to fight off the infection.

People are advised to get plenty of bed rest until the symptoms have passed, while over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol can reduce pain.

Drinking plenty of water and avoiding foods that require a lot of chewing are also recommended.

People diagnosed with mumps are also recommended to stay away from school, college or work for five days after the symptoms begin.

Regular handwashing and use of tissues to cover the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing are also recommended to prevent the spread of the disease.

How is mumps spread?

Mumps is an airborne virus and can be spread by an infected person coughing or sneezing and releasing tiny droplets of contaminated saliva, which can then be breathed in by another person.

It can also be spread by an infected person touching their nose or mouth, then transferring the virus onto an object such as a door handle or work surface.

And it can also be spread by people sharing utensils, such as cups, cutlery or plates with an infected person.

What about any long-term effects?

Some common complications of mumps include pain and swelling of the testicles, pain and swelling of the ovaries, inflammation of the pancreas and in rare cases, viral meningitis. 

The HSE also says that women who develop a mumps infection during the first 12-16 week of pregnancy have a slightly higher risk of miscarriage. However, the HSE adds that there is no evidence that mumps causes birth defects.