Does my child have mumps?

Has your child suddenly developed a “hamster-like face” or “squirrel cheeks”? They can get mumps!

Mumps is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the salivary glands in front of the ears. These are known as the parotid glands. Symptoms of mumps include swelling of the throat and jaw.

Mumps is more common in children but can occur at any age. Cases of mumps in South Africa have become less common since the introduction of mumps vaccination.

What causes mumps in children?

Mumps is transmitted through contact with mouth, nose and throat fluids when an infected child coughs, sneezes, or talks. The virus can also be found on surfaces such as doorknobs, eating utensils, and drinking glasses. The virus spreads when another child uses these products and then rubs their nose or mouth.

Who are the children at risk of contracting mumps?
A child is more likely to get mumps if they are exposed to someone who has the disease and has not received the mumps vaccine.

What are the signs and symptoms of mumps in children?

Symptoms usually appear two to three weeks after exposure to the virus. Many children have no or only mild symptoms. Here are the most common symptoms of mumps:

  • Swelling and pain in the salivary glands, especially in the jaw area
  • Difficulty speaking and eating
  • ear pain
  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • Tired
  • Anorexia

Good to know: The symptoms of mumps can be similar to those of other diseases. Make an appointment for your child to see a doctor for a diagnosis.

How is mumps diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s symptoms and medical history will be discussed with the health care provider. They will physically examine your child. To confirm the diagnosis, your child may also have additional tests, such as a saliva or urine test.

How is mumps treated in a child?

Treatment will be determined based on your child’s symptoms, age and general health. It will also be determined by the severity of the disease. Mumps is not treated with antibiotics.

The purpose of treatment is to relieve symptoms. Treatment options may include:

  • rest in bed
  • Consuming a lot of fluids
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and discomfort
  • Soothe the swollen parotid glands with a warm or cold compress (whichever your child prefers).
  • Children with mumps should stay at home for five days from the onset of the parotid gland swelling. Ask your doctor when your child will return to school or child care.

Good to know: Discuss all the risks, benefits, and potential adverse effects of medications with your child’s health care professional. Ibuprofen should not be given to a child younger than six months unless directed by a healthcare provider. Aspirin should not be given to children because it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a serious health condition.

A word about childhood vaccinations

Protection against mumps is included in the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine or the MMR vaccine for the majority of children (MMRV). It is given to them when they are 12 to 15 months old, and then again when they are 4 to 6 months old.

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