What is mumps?

Mumps is a highly contagious disease that causes fever and inflammation of the face.

Mumps is a serious disease because it can lead to: 

  • inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
  • inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
  • inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)
  • infertility (not being able to have children).

About one in 200 children with mumps will develop brain inflammation, which can be very serious. Mumps can also damage nerves, which can lead to deafness.

In pregnant women, mumps can cause miscarriage during the first three months of pregnancy.

Mumps is caused by the mumps virus.

What are the symptoms of mumps?

Mumps symptoms include:

  • swelling of the face, especially around the lower jaw
  • fever
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • aches and pains
  • loss of appetite, leading to weight loss
  • painful chewing or swallowing.

Mumps can cause swelling and pain in other parts of the body as well, including in the:

  • breasts
  • testicles
  • ovaries
  • membranes surrounding the brain (meningitis)
  • brain (encephalitis)
  • heart muscle
  • pancreas
  • liver
  • thyroid.

Symptoms usually start about 12 to 25 days after catching mumps. People usually start to feel better in two weeks, unless they have a serious case of the disease.

Who is at risk from mumps?

Mumps can affect people of all ages. Anyone who has not been immunised is at risk of catching mumps. Mumps is not common in Australia, but cases do occur.

The mumps vaccine prevents most, but not all people getting mumps and complications caused by the disease. Some people who receive two doses of the mumps vaccine 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 a person who has not been vaccinated.

How do you get mumps?

Mumps can spread:

  • when an infected person coughs or sneezes and another person breathes it in
  • through close contact with an infected person
  • if you spend a lot of time with someone who has mumps.

Mumps is very contagious. It can spread easily through families, childcare centres and schools.

Some people may not know they have mumps because they only have mild or no symptoms. They can, however still spread the disease to other people.

How do you prevent mumps?

Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect against mumps.

Mumps vaccines protect you from getting infected and prevent serious disease. For more information on mumps vaccination, see Mumps immunisation service.

If you have mumps, you can help stop the disease spreading by:

  • staying away from childcare, school, work or other places where you could spread the infection
  • washing your hands often
  • covering your coughs and sneezes

Your doctor will tell you when you are no longer infectious.

How do you know if you have mumps?

If you think you or one of your family members has mumps, see your doctor.

Your doctor may ask about your symptoms and whether you have been in contact with someone who has mumps. If your doctor thinks you have mumps, they may take a throat swab or do a urine or blood test to confirm the diagnosis.

How do you get treated for mumps?

There is no specific treatment for mumps, and most people get better on their own.

Some of the complications of mumps can be serious. See your doctor if you:

  • have pain anywhere apart from the face
  • have a high fever
  • seem to be getting sicker.

People with serious disease may need to go to hospital.

More information


If you need advice or more information about immunisation, go to our Immunisation contacts page.

Last updated: 
11 December 2017