While the incidence of this disease is down a whopping 99 percent since the 1960s, mumps has not been completely eradicated just yet. That may be hard to believe, since most people associated it with a bygone era, but it’s true. In fact, recently mumps outbreaks have returned, and many in the conventional medical community believe it’s because people avoided the mumps vaccine over several years in the 1990s when doubts were raised about its safety.
Why the mumps fear? Well, mumps is a very contagious, acute (short-term) virus, meaning it can be easily passed on if not dealt with. It’s most common in babies and children, which is why women are often advised to get vaccinated against mumps before getting pregnant. This disease can also affect adults and poses a threat worldwide because it’s capable of easily being spread from person to person, even without direct contact.
The mumps is caused by an infection of the virus called paramyxovirus, which usually attacks the glands in the neck and causes swollen, sore throats. It’s considered very contagious because the virus can travel through the air via tiny airborne droplets that make their way into someone’s respiratory tract and lungs. (1) Research shows the same precautions used in preventing colds and the flu from spreading can also manage the mumps.
Mumps virus droplets are usually released into the air and then spread when someone coughs or sneezes, but the disease can also be transmitted through touching a surface that contains the virus or sharing items, such as utensils. Once the virus takes hold in someone’s immune system, symptoms of mumps, such as swollen glands and trouble swallowing, can start to appear within two to three weeks.
There good news is there are natural ways to prevent and treat mumps, which I explain below.
Natural Prevention and Mumps Treatment
If you suspect that you or your child might have the mumps, it’s a good idea to go see your doctor right away. Your doctor will likely review your symptoms, perform a physical exam, ask you about your medical history, including the vaccines you may have received, and take a urinary culture test to confirm a diagnosis.
Like other viral infections, once a diagnosis is made, treatment involves getting plenty of rest and giving the virus time to make its way out of your immune system naturally. Some doctors prescribe medications to help a patient overcome the virus more easily or deal with painful symptoms, but antibiotics will never work against the mumps virus since these only target bacterial infections. (2)
Here are several key tips to help you naturally overcome the mumps virus more easily, reduce the discomfort associated with symptoms and prevent further complications:
1. Get Enough Rest
To help stop the virus from spreading, plus to let your immune system kick the virus and resolve your symptoms, it’s best to stay home while you experience symptoms. This can mean avoiding contact with most other people for anywhere between seven to 20 days depending on how severe the virus is. Bed rest usually isn’t necessary, but it’s important to get at least eight to nine hours of sleep a night and probably take time off from any strenuous activities too.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children and adults stay home from work for school for at least five days after their glands begin to swell. Children should stay out of school until symptoms have subsided, and adults should let their employers or universities know that they’ve caught the mumps virus to warn others in close proximity. (3)
2. Drink More Fluids and Consume Electrolytes
Because the mumps can cause pain in the throat and make it hard to swallow or chew food normally, many people wind up losing their appetite and consuming little calories or fluids. To help keep your immune system strong and prevent symptoms from worsening, it’s important to drink enough water (usually around eight eight-ounce glasses per day for adults or more) and prevent electrolyte imbalances.
Beneficial foods and drinks like bone broth, soups or stews, kombucha, smoothies, yogurt/kefir, vegetable juice, and coconut milk can provide important nutrients without requiring chewing. You can also try using a time-honored natural remedy for the flu: sipping on soothing hot water with lemon, honey and cinnamon. Or you can make homemade ginger tea with immune-boosting raw honey.
3. Sanitize Your Home to Stop the Virus from Spreading
When someone in the family is within the incubation period of the mumps, be careful to minimize contact with other people who live in the home and disinfect surfaces and fabrics. Ways to practice good hygiene and control the virus include: thoroughly cleansing surfaces using natural antiviral essential oils (such as lemon and oregano oils), washing your heands regularly, covering the infected person’s mouth when sneezing or coughing, not sharing a bed, and avoiding sharing drinks or utensils until symptoms have passed.
4. Control Pain and Achiness Naturally
If symptoms become very uncomfortable, over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen, can help lower inflammation temporarily and allow you to get better sleep. There are also natural ways to deal with pain and find relief from symptoms like swollen glands, muscle aches or headaches — including using essential oils, soaking in a bath and applying ice packs.
To reduce muscle or joint pains, you can try applying a homemade muscle rub containing peppermint oil to tender areas. An ice pack or cold compress can also be held against swollen glands to lower inflammation and tenderness. If a particular muscle or area is giving you trouble, rotating between using a heat pack and ice pack can help give you relief.
Another classic remedy for any muscle or joint ache is taking a bath with Epsom salts. Dilute two cups into one gallon of water, then pour into your bath and add other essential oils like lavender to help you feel better almost instantly.
5. Take Antiviral Herbs
Antiviral herbs are natural plant-derived substances that boost the immune system, help inhibit the development of viruses and stop them from spreading. Compared to medications, they’re basically harmless and typically cause few or no side effects. Unlike antibiotics (which can’t treat viruses!) or even vaccinations, antiviral herbs don’t target one specific type of pathogen but instead work to build the immune system’s ability to protect the body from threats naturally. Many of these herbs also have additional health benefits, such as controlling stress, fighting fatigue and supporting digestion.
Antiviral herbs to help you overcome viruses, including the mumps, include: elderberry, echinacea, calendula, astralagus root, garlic, oregano oil and olive leaf extract. These can be used at home to make simple remedies like herbal tea, rubs for the skin, and even soups or smoothies — plus they can be used in aromatherapy.
6. Boost Your Immunity through a Healthy Diet
If you’ve already been diagnosed with mumps, you might think it’s too late to start worrying about eating a healthy diet. But a nutrient-rich diet helps lower the risk for mumps complications like other serious infections or ear damage.
Depending on your ability to chew normally, try pureeing or cooking high-antioxidant foods like fruits and vegetables to make smoothies and soups. Foods like cooked garlic and onions, berries, leafy greens, avocados, sweet potatoes, cooked apples, cooked carrots, raw nut butter, and seeds are easy to eat and loaded with protective nutrients.
Cage-free eggs, olive and coconut oil, and organic cultured dairy products like yogurt and kefir are also anti-inflammatory foods that can provide essential fats and proteins. Probiotic foods, such as cultured veggies, yogurt and kombucha, are also a great way to improve gut health, which plays an important role in immunity. Try to avoid any inflammatory foods made with added sugars, synthetic additives like artificial sweeteners, or meat made with hormones and unnatural chemicals.
Facts About the Mumps
- Cases of mumps have fallen significantly since the mumps-measles-rubella (MMR) vaccine was first administered in the 1960s. Before the U.S. mumps vaccination program started in 1967, the CDC reports that 186,000 cases of the mumps were caught in the U.S. alone each year. Today, the rate is down by about 99 percent. (4)
- It’s believed in the conventional medical community that 80 percent to 95 percent of mumps cases today could be prevented if all children received the MMR vaccination in proper doses. Now that recently mumps outbreaks have returned, many believe it’s because people avoided the mumps vaccine over several years in the 1990s when doubts were raised about its safety. (5)
- However, of the three viruses the MMR vaccine supposedly fights, it’s the least effective at protecting against the mumps. In fact, according to the CDC, two doses of mumps vaccine are said to be 88 percent effective at preventing the illness while one dose is only 78 percent effective. (6)
- The mumps virus is believed to be the most contagious before symptoms even appear, which makes it a difficult virus to control. Today, the vast majority of mumps cases are seen in teenagers over the age of 15 (the age group that either never received any MMR vaccine because it was too old when it was introduced or had only received a single dose and didn’t follow up).
- Usually, symptoms of the mumps last between seven to 18 days (the time period known as the active “incubation period”). Research shows that on average the mumps lasts around 10 days.
- One of the most dangerous time periods to catch the mumps is during pregnancy since the virus can harm the unborn baby and lead to miscarriage in the first 12–16 weeks. (7)
- Usually the immune system naturally overcomes the mumps within several weeks, leading to protection against getting the virus again and no further side effects. However, in some children and adults complications of the mumps can develop that cause nerve damage, infections, and rarely even deafness or death.
- Although rates of the mumps has fallen considerably, outbreaks still sometimes occur in crowded settings like military bases, colleges/universities, day camps and daycare settings.
- There is currently no “cure” for the mumps virus once it’s caught or even a definitive way to protect against it, but building a strong immune system, practicing good hygiene and preventing the spread of mumps from person to person all help control the virus.
Mumps Symptoms and Signs
Not everyone with the mumps virus experiences any noticeable symptoms at all. For example, children under 5 years old who catch it are more likely to overcome the virus more easily and not show any serious symptoms during the incubation period.
In some cases, mumps in either children or adults causes symptoms that are only very mild and can pass pretty quickly, but in other cases symptoms can become very uncomfortable and even worsen into other serious health problems.
The most common symptoms of mumps include: (8)
- swollen glands, especially in the throat, front of the neck and around the salivary glands (this has been nicknamed “hamster face” because it can make the jaw and cheeks appear very puffy)
- pain and tenderness around the neck, throat, jaw, upper chest, armpits and groin (where other major lymph nodes are located)
- difficulty chewing and swallowing
- general achiness and muscle pains
- trouble moving, along with bone or joint pain
- dry mouth
- trouble sleeping, fatigue and being more tired than usual
- changes in appetite and digestive discomfort
Symptoms of mumps mimic those of many other common illnesses, including a cold or flu, fever, or stomach virus, leading people to sometimes assume they don’t need to see a doctor or carefully avoid contact with other people. In fact, many people with mumps might not even be aware that they’re carrying the virus at all. Estimates show that between 30 percent to 40 percent of mumps cases might go undiagnosed because they’re “subclinical” and asymptomatic (don’t cause symptoms strong enough to make someone visit a doctor).
Although not everyone with mumps displays symptoms, the virus is still taken very seriously because it can lead to lasting, even life-threatening complications. Complications of mumps are more likely to develop in adults than in children and can affect many different parts of the body, including the reproductive organs, pancreas and spinal cord.
According to the John Hopkins School of Medicine, complications of mumps can include: (9)
- Inflammation in the spinal cord and parts of the brain, which causes meningitis or encephalitis
- Inflammation in the reproductive organs (the testes and the ovaries), which are conditions called orchitis and oophoritis — these complications affect about 5 percent to 10 percent of patients and can rarely lead to infertility or a man becoming sterile
- Metastasis (abnormal changes in breast tissue cells)
- Pancreatitis (inflammation and infection of the pancreas)
- Inflammation inside the ears, which can cause deafness in some cases
Risk Factors for the Mumps Virus
The most common way to catch the mumps virus is to breath in air that holds paramyxovirus droplets, which means any crowded area is more likely to cause the virus to spread. Unfortunately, breathing into the virus isn’t always the easiest thing to avoid, which is why it’s important for infected patients to keep themselves out of daycare, school or work settings where they can infect other susceptible people (especially babies, the elderly or pregnant women).
Aside from avoiding direct contact or close proximity to sick people carrying the virus, other risk factors for spreading the the disease include:
- not having been vaccinated against mumps or only receiving one dose out of two — the vaccine prevents about 80 percent 95 percent of the cases (10)
- directly contacting someone else with the virus (through sex, kissing or touching)
- having low immune function, due to factors like eating a poor diet and taking certain medications
- poor hygiene
It’s crucial not to share things like drinks, utensils, bowls or plates if someone is infected. Washing surfaces in the home and disinfecting kitchen equipment can help stop the mumps from spreading from family member to family member.
Is the Mumps Vaccine Safe?
The good news regarding the mumps vaccine is this: Since the introduction of the mumps vaccine, cases of mumps in the U.S. have fallen drastically and now are relatively uncommon. Mumps is similar to measles and rubella in that all three are viral diseases that are especially risky when caught by pregnant women, fetuses and young children.
Most health authorities today recommend that women get vaccinated against mumps before becoming pregnant and that children receive a combination vaccination that protects against the measles, mumps and rubella (the MMR vaccination). The decision to get vaccinated and vaccinate a child is ultimately up to the individual and can help protect from a potentially dangerous disease — however, vaccines themselves aren’t for every person and aren’t without risks either.
In fact, some reports indicate that the vaccine could actually lead to some people contracting mumps. (11)
Here are some key facts about the mumps vaccine (MMR vaccine):
- The MMR vaccine is effective for most people in preventing mumps, and for those who do develop mumps and overcome it, they’re then protected from having the virus ever again. However, of the three viruses the MMR vaccine supposedly fights (including measles and rubella), it’s the least effective at protecting against the mumps.
- The MMR vaccine is administered in two doses. It’s first given to children when they’re between 12–15 months old and then again when they are 4 to 6 years old. Two doses of mumps vaccine are said to be 88 percent effective at preventing the illness while one dose is only 78 percent effective. (12)
- MMR vaccine is contraindicated during pregnancy and must be given before a women becomes pregnant. During pregnancy, it’s not safe to be vaccinated because it contains live, attenuated viruses that pose a risk to the unborn baby, who has a very low immune system. When a woman receives the mumps vaccine, she is usually advised not to get pregnant for at least four weeks afterward.
- The mumps vaccine is also not safe for people with certain allergies, such as those to medications like Neomycin. It’s also not suitable for anyone with temporary low immune function due to other illnesses or viruses, like the cold, flu or a stomach virus.
- According to the CDC, any vaccine can cause “serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.” One out of 4 get temporary pain and stiffness in the joints (mostly teenage or adult women), 1 out of 6 get a fever, 1 out of 20 get a rash, 1 out of 3,000 suffer a seizure, and “several other severe problems have been reported after a child gets MMR vaccine, including deafness; long-term seizures, coma or lowered consciousness; permanent brain damage.” (13)
- Also, there have been cases of mumps actually being spread through inadequately attenuated vaccinations.