Formerly one of the most common childhood diseases, mumps is practically nonexistent in the United States today, due to a successful push for routine vaccination in children that began in the 1970s. Mumps is still a significant threat in developing countries.
Mumps is caused by a virus and transmitted in respiratory drops and saliva. It's spread through coughing and sneezing, touching contaminated surfaces, or sharing utensils or drinking glasses.
The disease's early flu-like symptoms — muscle pains, headache, fever, lack of energy and lack of appetite — won't clue you in that you have the mumps. But they're often followed by a tell-tale sign — a painful swelling of glands at the base of the jaw.
These days, mumps is rarely more than a moderate illness, but there can be complications, such as inflammation of testicles in men and inflammation of ovaries or breasts in women. In some cases, mumps can lead to inflammation of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) and permanent deafness.
Prevention and Treatment
There is no specific treatment for mumps, other than trying to ease the pain of symptoms.
The vaccine, usually packaged with vaccines for measles and rubella and given twice during childhood, is not 100 percent effective, but has done a good job in the United States of keeping outbreaks to a minimum.
Adults who didn't get two doses as a child are advised to get revaccinated, especially college students, people traveling internationally and women of childbearing age.
Potentially Silent Contagion
Symptoms, if they do appear, usually pop up about two weeks after exposure. But people are contagious before symptoms show up, making it easy to unknowingly spread the disease. After symptoms develop, people are contagious for about four to nine days.
Current Outbreak's Path
Infectious disease investigators are looking for people who traveled on nine flights. If you flew on Northwest or American Airlines between March 26, 2006 and April 2, 2006, check this list to see if there was an infected person on your flight.