Mumps: Virus Causes Puffy Cheeks and Sometimes, Serious Complications

March 5, 2019

The bottom line: Mumps is a viral contagious disease. People know mumps for patients’ swollen cheeks and jaw, but patients also suffer fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Outbreaks occur every year in the United States and Texas. The MMR vaccine protects people against this disease.

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Mumps is more than just a pain in the neck. New outbreaks of the contagious viral disease appear each year.

Patients typically get a fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Then their salivary glands become swollen, causing telltale puffy cheeks and jaw.

The symptoms might not occur until two weeks after the virus has entered the person’s body, said Austin pediatrician and Texas Medical Association (TMA) physician leader Arathi Shah, MD. This poses a problem. “Someone infected with mumps can easily expose others long before knowing he or she is sick, resulting in outbreaks in crowded places like schools and colleges,” she said.

Mumps spreads easily through sneezing and coughing, or just touching infected surfaces. Most outbreaks happen in close-contact settings, such as college dormitories: Students cluster together there, often share food and drinks, kiss one another, and play sports together. But someone any age could be affected.

Mumps cases have been rising steadily in the United States over the past few years, with more than 2,000 mumps cases reported in 2018. In both 2016 and 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported there were more than 6,000 mumps patients.

Texas has seen outbreaks too, the most recent being in February in Houston. In 2018, mumps outbreaks occurred at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas State University in San Marcos, and at a national cheerleading competition in Dallas.

Mumps can be severe for some patients, explaineds Dr. Shah, who saw serious illness when she was a medical student in India.

“I saw complicated cases, with meningitis and encephalitis, or swelling of brain tissue. I also saw orchitis, painful swelling of the testicles,” she said. “It was heart-breaking to see patients suffer, especially because mumps is preventable.” In addition to these complications, some mumps patients lose their hearing.

A vaccine prevents mumps. Health officials first introduced the shot in 1967, and the number of cases soon plummeted 99 percent, according to the CDC. Doctors recommend children get two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (commonly called MMR). Some people get the MMRV shot, which includes a chickenpox vaccine.

Unvaccinated adults and college-age students also can receive the vaccine, and during outbreaks, high-risk groups may need a third dose.

Vaccination is the best way to prevent mumps and its complications,” said Dr. Shah. She also recommends people cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands with soap and water, and do not share unwashed utensils or beverages.

This release is part of a monthly TMA series highlighting contagious diseases that childhood and adult vaccinations can prevent. Some diseases covered thus far are:

TMA designed the series to inform patients of the facts about these diseases and to help them understand the benefits of vaccinations to prevent illness. Visit the TMA website to see efforts to raise immunization awareness and how funding is used to increase vaccination rates.

TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing nearly 53,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.

Be Wise — ImmunizeSM is a joint initiative led by TMA physicians and medical students, and the TMA Alliance. It is funded in 2019 by the TMA Foundation thanks to H-E-B, TMF Health Quality Institute, Pfizer Inc., and gifts from physicians and their families.

Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association.

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TMA Contacts: Brent Annear (512) 370-1381; cell: (512) 656-7320; email: brent.annear[at]texmed[dot]org

Marcus Cooper (512) 370-1382; cell: (512) 650-5336; email: marcus.cooper[at]texmed[dot]org

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Last Updated On

March 08, 2019