Mumps Symptoms Explained As Cases Surge In England

Shaun Weatherby, 26, had mumps last year and was unable to eat because of the swelling and pain. "It's definitely an experience I don’t want to have again," he says.
The photo on the right shows Shaun with mumps.
Shaun Weatherby
The photo on the right shows Shaun with mumps.

Mumps cases in England have reached a decade high, with 5,042 lab-confirmed cases of mumps in 2019, compared to 1,066 cases in 2018.

The rise looks set to continue in 2020, Public Health England (PHE) has said, with 546 confirmed cases in January 2020 compared to 191 during the same period last year.

Shaun Weatherby, 26, based in North Wales, contracted mumps last September and says the day before his symptoms properly started to show, he felt a small lump under his jawline on one side.

Later that night, he struggled to swallow food, but felt “fairly normal” on the whole. The illness progressed rapidly, with the lump becoming larger, more painful and Weatherby finding it increasingly difficult to swallow.

“The next day I wasn’t in work and when my girlfriend returned home, both sides of my face had swollen quite significantly – I hadn’t eaten for nearly two days at this point,” he tells HuffPost UK.

After a trip to A&E, he was diagnosed with mumps, despite having had the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine as a child. He had to drink water through a straw, and barely ate anything, for five days in total.

“It’s definitely an experience I don’t want to have again,” he says.

What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious illness which causes the sides of a person’s face, underneath their ears, to swell up and hurt. After the introduction of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine in 1988, cases began to go down – however in the past few years the numbers are rapidly creeping up again.

The rise in cases last year was largely driven by outbreaks in universities and colleges, PHE said. Many of the cases were seen in young adults born in the late nineties and early 2000s who missed out on the MMR vaccine when they were children.

These groups are now old enough to attend college and university and are likely to continue fuelling outbreaks into 2020 – particularly as the infection is so contagious.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms tend to develop 14 to 25 days after becoming infected with the virus, according to NHS Choices. The most obvious sign of mumps is swelling of the glands at the time of the face, giving the appearance of “hamster cheeks”. Sometimes one gland (one side) might be affected, but most of the time both glands swell up. It can be pain, tender and difficult to swallow.

Other symptoms that might develop a few days later include joint pain, sickness, dry mouth, headache, stomach pain, tiredness, loss of appetite and a high temperature.

It’s worth noting that in roughly a third of cases, mumps doesn’t cause any noticeable symptoms.

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How can you protect against it?

The best way to protect against mumps is to have the MMR vaccine – yes, even if you’re an adult. The first dose is normally given to babies aged 13 months, and a second dose tends to be issued between the ages of three and five.

Some adults won’t have had this vaccine in childhood, however, particularly those born between 1980 and 1990. Or it’s possible they only had the first dose and not the second, which means they won’t be fully protected.

PHE is urging people to ensure they have had two doses of MMR vaccine. If you’re not sure whether you’ve had them, call your GP who will be able to tell you.

Adults who only had one dose as a child will need to have another dose, a PHE spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost UK. If you have two doses in adulthood because you didn’t have any vaccines as a child, the second MMR dose must be given at least one month after the first.

Vaccination prevents most (95%), but not all, cases of mumps. If a vaccinated person does get mumps, they will likely have less severe illness than those who are unvaccinated.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at PHE, is reminding people: “It’s never too late to catch up.” She said: “We encourage all students and young people who may have missed out on their MMR vaccine in the past to contact their GP practice and get up to date as soon as possible.”

Data shows that uptake of most childhood vaccines has been steadily decreasing since 2012-13. The rise in mumps cases correlates with a rise in measles too, which led to the UK losing its measles elimination status last year.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the jump in mumps cases is “alarming” and “yet another example of the long-term damage caused by anti-vax information”.

“Science proves that vaccines are the best form of defence against a host of potentially deadly diseases and are safer and more effective than ever before. Those who claim otherwise are risking people’s lives,” he said.


If you think you have mumps, you should see your GP so they can rule out other issues such as glandular fever and tonsillitis. Mumps can be dangerous in some people as it can lead to complications such as viral meningitis – so protecting against it is key.

There isn’t a cure for mumps. However it should pass in the space of a fortnight. In the meantime, you should get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, take painkillers if needed, and apply a warm or cool compress to your glands to try and ease some of the pain.