By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

Most youngsters today probably don’t even know what Mumps is, while those of us who are fast approaching middle age are likely to remember having it as a kid. Only a few years ago it was an extremely common childhood disease in this country, and in some parts of the world, it still is today.

What is Mumps?

Mumps is a contagious viral infection of the salivary glands (parotid glands) that is found most often in children. Mumps is also known as “inflammation of the parotid glands” (epidemic parotitis). The name “mumps” comes from an old English word meaning “lumps or bumps within the cheeks.” Swollen parotid glands are the definitive and most well known sign of a mumps infection. The parotid glands are one of three pairs of salivary glands that are located below and in front of the ears.

While mumps is a highly contagious disease, the chances of you or your children contracting it in the United States are pretty slim. Mumps used to be one of the most common childhood diseases up until a vaccine against it was released in 1967. Before the vaccine, approximately 92% of all kids had been exposed to the mumps virus before the age of 15, most of them between the ages of four and seven. The vast majority of mumps cases are not serious and do not develop any complications. The original vaccine has been updated to the “new and improved” model of today: the MMR vaccine that vaccinates against measles, mumps, and rubella. Most states now require children to receive MMR as a prerequisite for school registration. Granted, the vaccine has drastically reduced the incidence of mumps, but that does NOT mean that I support MMR. Quite the contrary, but more on that later.

What Are the Symptoms of Mumps?

Mumps is still common in many parts of the world, and is especially contagious in crowded conditions such as schools and daycare centers. This infection of the salivary glands is spread through the saliva of infected persons, most often via coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread through the sharing of silverware or drinking utensils. Mumps is just about as contagious as the flu. Signs of a mumps infection generally appear about 2-3 weeks after exposure to the virus.

The most common symptoms of mumps include:

  • Initial signs of headache, chills, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
  • Swollen, painful parotid glands, which is the most obvious symptom of mumps. One or both sides of the face may be affected. This characteristic swelling usually occurs within one day or less of the initial signs above. (If you see a 50 lb. chipmunk running around the house, you can be pretty sure your child has the mumps.) The swelling usually lasts about seven days before it is totally gone.
  • Painful swallowing
  • Painful chewing
  • Fever, sometimes as high as 104 F.

What Are the Possible Complications of Mumps?

There are some significant but rare complications that can occur due to a mumps infection. These are more likely to be manifested in adults who get mumps than in children. The most common ones include:

  • Meningitis:  This involves inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal chord. It is a result of the mumps virus traveling into the bloodstream and spreading to the central nervous system. Symptoms include stiff neck, fever, headache, vomiting, and fatigue, and usually appear about four or five days after the initial mumps signs have arrived. This type of meningitis is usually not serious, and damage to the brain is exceptionally rare. The meningitis typically runs its course in about a week.
  • Encephalitis:  This condition results in swelling of the actual brain tissue, and can appear up to two weeks after the initial mumps symptoms. Serious effects of encephalitis include seizures, high fever, and a numbing of the pain centers in the brain. Most folks will recover with no lasting effects, but a small percentage may have permanent neurological damage, and about 1% of all encephalitis cases related to mumps are fatal.
  • Pancreatitis:  Inflammation and swelling of the pancreas can result in abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Orchitis:   Up to 25% of adult men who contract mumps may experience swelling and pain in the scrotum and testicles. It is much more rare in male children. This swelling may appear on one or both sides of the scrotum, and can additionally include severe pain, headache, nausea, and fever. Building a “bridge” between the legs composed of clothing or soft bedding can help to support the scrotum and bring some relief. The pain and swelling may last up to a week, but the testicles might be tender for several more weeks. Wearing an athletic supporter is often helpful.
  • Inflammation of the ovaries:  This complication can produce pain in the lower abdomen and is much more common in adult women than in girls. It usually clears up shortly, and does not affect fertility.
  • Hearing loss:  Hearing impairment due to a mumps infection is very rare, but it can happen. If it does, it may affect one or both ears, and is usually permanent.

If your child or another adult in the house comes down with the mumps, try to take care of the symptoms and make them as comfortable as possible. There is no treatment for mumps per se. The virus must run its course, which thankfully doesn’t usually take more than 2 weeks. Keep an eye out for signs of any complications. With males, watch for an unusually high fever and/or pain and swelling in the scrotal area. With females, be aware of any abdominal pain, which could indicate inflammation of the ovaries. Abdominal pain in either gender could also mean pancreatitis.

What is the Best Way to Deal With the Symptoms of Mumps?

Over the counter pain medications may be given as needed to give some relief. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin can help. But NEVER give aspirin to a child, as it can bring on a potentially deadly condition known as Reyes Syndrome. Other suggestions include:

  • Lots of bed rest, especially while the fever is still active.
  • Push water and other fluids, but stay away from anything acidic (like lemonade, for example) that might stimulate the salivary glands and increase the pain.
  • Keep yourself or your children isolated to minimize the chance of spreading the mumps.
  • Feed the patient a soft diet that is easy to swallow and digest. Pulverizing food in a food processor is one idea. This allows consumption of whole foods that the patient needs to help him or her heal, but probably couldn’t swallow if they weren’t mashed.
  • Some alternative therapies that you may want to consider include:
    • Acupressure:  Either you can do this to yourself, or on the patient. Take your two middle fingers and place them between the jawbone and the ear. Apply pressure while taking deep breaths, and continue for about two minutes. This is a great way to relieve glandular pain.
    • Try soaking a cloth in a warm mixture of vinegar and cayenne pepper. Wrapping this around the neck or head several times a day can be very helpful for pain from headaches and swollen glands.
    • Taking supplemental Echinacea will naturally boost the immune system and help your body fight off the mumps infection better and faster.

What About the MMR Vaccine?

This vaccine has been available in the United States since the 1980’s, and is now widely accepted by most people, simply due to ignorance, as the only option for vaccination against mumps. This is simply not true. There are several key questions that must be considered when surveying this issue.

First let’s address the safety of the MMR. Is it a wise choice to allow my children to receive this vaccine?  There is a huge amount of evidence that clearly shows that some children are at great risk when exposed to this vaccine, and in fact many have died or become deathly ill.  Many parents have seen their kids, from infants to toddlers go through some terrible side effects from MMR. Some of the most common are high fevers (up to 106 F), which have caused brain damage, convulsions, sudden death, and seizures. As far as I am concerned, we can stop the debate right here. It’s not even necessary to get into the dangers of the mercury content in many vaccines that can have serious health consequences, or the concerns over the increase of autism associated with vaccinations. The incidence of mumps is so low in this country, that I think a person would have to be out of their mind to subject their child to such a risky and dangerous vaccine. The cure is clearly worse than the cause in this case.

What most people don’t know, and your doctor usually won’t tell you, is that if you did feel the need to get vaccinated against the mumps, there are separate vaccines available. I am not recommending them, but I am simply curious as to why this information is not disseminated.

A study by Swiss physicians determined that there is no medical rationale behind combining three vaccines into one. In fact, the reverse is true. If the only goal were to vaccinate as many individuals as possible, separate vaccines would be much more medically effective. It makes one wonder why the MMR was incorporated in the first place. Some people are of the opinion that in the government’s eyes, it is easier to enforce mandated vaccines when there are less of them to keep track of, and I suspect this line of thinking is on the right track. Every day we are losing more individual freedoms in this country, and many of them seem to be in the arena of health care decisions.

There is even some question as to the effectiveness of the MMR. A British study in 2000 found that almost 50% of children who had received MMR showed “zero or very low immunity” against measles or mumps. There are a lot of parents out there who think their children are protected, when they very well may not be.

In my mind, there are clearly too many known issues and unanswered question regarding the use of MMR. I would not personally recommend that anyone, especially in the United States, subject themselves or their loved ones to this very questionable vaccine.

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