Should You Be Worried About the Mumps

By Carolyn Eagle

Posted in : Health and Wellness

March 21, 2017

With the recent outbreak of mumps in Ontario, what was once considered by many a childhood disease almost eradicated by vaccination has now hit the spotlight again.  Although the outbreak has been centered around 18-35 year olds in Toronto, there have also been cases in Toronto high schools, causing widespread concern and media coverage. But should you be worried?

The truth is that mumps have never gone away completely so here is a bit of a primer in what they are, how you get them, and what kind of risk factors to look for.

What are the mumps?

The mumps are a highly contagious viral infection of the salivary glands which run under the jaw and behind the ear. The swelling of these glands is what causes that chipmunk like effect on those infected.

What are the symptoms of the mumps?

Unfortunately, the symptoms of the mumps don’t usually show up until about a week after you’ve already been infected. It has a similarity to chicken pocks that way. For some (close to 20%), symptoms never do show up, but when the symptoms do appear, they include pain and swelling in the sides of the face, pain swallowing, feeling tired and weak, headache, fever, nausea, and joint pain.

How contagious are the mumps?

The mumps are contagious. The virus spreads through the saliva of somebody who has already contracted the virus, and because symptoms don’t show up for a week or so, the carrier can be happily spreading the joy to all those around without knowing. Sneezing and coughing, kissing, sharing food, or sharing cutlery are common causes of infection. Spreading the virus can be as simple as the infected person touching their nose or mouth, then touching a surface that someone else may touch like a shopping cart handle or door knob.

What is the treatment for the mumps?

Essentially, there is no treatment. It’s a virus that must run its course and most people are feeling better in about 2 weeks. The bonus is that once you’ve had the mumps, you will be immune to getting them again. Rest, drink plenty of liquids, eat soft foods that are soothing to the throat, gargle with warm salt water and take over the counter pain killers. You can also put cold compresses on the swollen glands to alleviate the pain.

Isn’t There a Vaccine for the Mumps?

The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is required in two doses to achieve 88 to 90 percent effectiveness for preventing the mumps. Only one dose is less effective – about 78 per cent. Public Health officials are seeing the spike in 18-35 year olds because they may not have received a second dose of the vaccine. As for the cases in local high schools, there was no information released about whether or not those students had been vaccinated.

What Can I Do To Protect Myself?

If you or your children were born after 1970, Health Canada recommends that you look at your immunization records to determine whether or not you receive two doses of the MMR vaccine. If you are uncertain or don’t have your records, visit your doctor and consider getting a MMR booster. 

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