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Mumps is an infectious disease caused by a virus. It can lead to a wide range of complications, some very serious. These include meningitis and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Before the MMR vaccine was introduced in 1988, more than 8 out of every 10 people in the UK developed mumps. Mumps used to cause about 1200 hospital admissions each year in England and Wales. It was the most common cause of both viral meningitis and acquired deafness in children.

After 2002 there was a big increase in confirmed mumps cases in the UK. This peaked in 2005, when there were over 40,000 cases of mumps in England and Wales. Smaller peaks occurred in 2009 (over 7500 cases) and 2013 (over 4000 cases). Most of the cases have been in teenagers and young adults who were too old to be offered the MMR vaccine when it was introduced in 1988, and also missed a second MMR dose when this was introduced in 1996. Many of the outbreaks have been in colleges and universities.

mumps cases 1996 onwards

Click here for an accessible text version of this graph

Source: Public Health England and the Health Protection Agency archive  


Around 1 in 3 people do not show any symptoms when they are infected. People with mumps are most contagious a few days before symptoms develop and for a few days afterwards.

Common symptoms:

  • Swelling of two large glands at the side of the face just under the ears (the parotid glands)
  • High temperature (38ºC or above)
  • Headache
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Feeling sick
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling generally unwell

Common complications include:

  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) in about 4% of cases
  • Swelling of the ovaries in about 5% of teenage girls and women
  • Swelling of the testes in about 25% of teenage boys and men

Less common complications include:

  • Sterility
  • Deafness
  • Meningitis (See the Meningitis Research Foundation website for more detailed information on the signs and symptoms of meningitis.)
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Kidney problems
  • Joint problems
  • Heart problems

Very rarely, mumps can cause death.


It is normally spread by tiny water droplets that are coughed into the air by an infected person. The mumps virus can be breathed in from droplets in the air, or picked up from infected surfaces. About 1 in 3 people do not show symptoms when they are infected, but they can still pass the disease on to others.


The recommended way to protect your child against mumps is vaccination, through the MMR vaccine.

People infected with mumps can also help to prevent it spreading by regularly washing their hands, using tissues when they sneeze and thowing them away immediately, and avoiding school or work for at least five days after symptoms develop.


Page last updated Wednesday, November 28, 2018