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Outbreak-Related Questions and Answers for Patients

Questions and Answers

Q: I got the vaccine but still got mumps. Does this mean the vaccine doesn’t work?

A: MMR vaccine prevents most, but not all, cases of mumps and complications caused by the disease. People who have received two doses of the MMR vaccine are about nine times less likely to get mumps than unvaccinated people who have the same exposure to mumps virus. However, some people who receive two doses of MMR can still get mumps, especially if they have prolonged, close contact with someone who has the disease. If a vaccinated person does get mumps, they will likely have less severe illness than an unvaccinated person.

Before there was a vaccine, mumps was a common childhood disease in the United States. In some cases, the disease caused complications, such as permanent deafness in children and, occasionally, swelling of the brain (encephalitis), which in rare cases resulted in death. From year to year, the number of mumps cases can range from roughly a couple hundred to a couple thousand. In some years, there are more cases of mumps than usual because of outbreaks. See Mumps Cases and Outbreaks  for more information.

Q: Is mumps a serious disease?

A: Mumps can be serious, but most people with mumps recover completely in a few weeks. While infected with mumps, many people feel tired and achy, have a fever, and swollen salivary glands on the side of the face. Others may feel extremely ill and be unable to eat because of jaw pain, and a few will develop serious complications. Men and adolescent boys can develop pain or swelling in their testicles, which rarely results in sterility. Inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and loss of hearing can also occur, and in rare cases, this hearing loss can be permanent. The most serious complication is inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), which can lead to death or permanent disability.

Q: I've been told that I need to stay away from people while I'm sick with mumps. What does that mean and why does it matter?

A: When you have mumps, you should avoid prolonged, close contact with other people until at least five days after your salivary glands begin to swell because you are contagious during this time. The time it takes for symptoms to appear after a person is exposed to the virus can range from 12 to 25 days. You should not go to work or school. You should stay home when you are sick with mumps and limit contact with the people you live with; for example, sleep in a separate room by yourself if you can. Staying home while sick with mumps is an important way to avoid spreading the virus to other people. People who are infected with mumps don’t get sick right away—it can take 2 to 4 weeks for them to show signs of infection.

Q: What else should I do to prevent mumps from spreading?

A: In addition to staying away from others when you have mumps, you can help prevent the virus from spreading by

  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and put your used tissue in the trash can. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water.
  • Avoiding sharing drinks or eating utensils.
  • Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as toys, doorknobs, tables, counters.

Q: What should I do during a mumps outbreak?

A: Make sure you are up to date on your MMR vaccine. Visit the Mumps Vaccination page to see recommendations for different groups. Let your doctor know right away if you think that you or someone in your family may have mumps. 

In any situation, including when there is a mumps outbreak, washing hands often with soap and water and having good health practices are the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.

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