The Mumps


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Photo of child with a very large swelling on one side of the neck.
This child shows the characteristic parotid swelling associated with mumps. (credit: modification of work by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

OpenStax Microbiology

The viral disease mumps is an infection of the parotid glands, the largest of the three pairs of salivary glands. The causative agent is mumps virus (MuV), a paramyxovirus  with an envelope that has hemagglutinin and neuraminidase spikes. A fusion protein located on the surface of the envelope helps to fuse the viral envelope to the host cell plasma membrane.

Mumps virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets or through contact with contaminated saliva, making it quite contagious so that it can lead easily to epidemics. It causes fever, muscle pain, headache, pain with chewing, loss of appetite, fatigue, and weakness. There is swelling of the salivary glands and associated pain. The virus can enter the bloodstream (viremia), allowing it to spread to the organs and the central nervous system. The infection ranges from subclinical cases to cases with serious complications, such as encephalitis, meningitis, and deafness. Inflammation of the pancreas, testes, ovaries, and breasts may also occur and cause permanent damage to those organs; despite these complications, a mumps infection rarely cause sterility.

Mumps can be recognized based on clinical signs and symptoms, and a diagnosis can be confirmed with laboratory testing. The virus can be identified using culture or molecular techniques such as RT-PCR. Serologic tests are also available, especially enzyme immunoassays that detect antibodies. There is no specific treatment for mumps, so supportive therapies are used. The most effective way to avoid infection is through vaccination. Although mumps used to be a common childhood disease, it is now rare in the United States due to vaccination with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: