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Mumps: a disease that is scarier than it seems

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Adult female mumps patient

Mumps!? But I’m not a kid!


Can you recall if you contracted mumps (epidemic parotitis) when you were a child?

You may associate mumps with a disease among children, but adults can also get the virus if they are not immune against it.

If you have not been vaccinated or do not have strong immunity, mumps can be a very scary disease.



Author:Riyo Aomoto

Global Writer

Back to the basics! What is mumps?

Mumps is officially called epidemic parotitis and is caused by mumps virus. As the name, “otafuku” speaks for itself, the parotid gland under the ears or submaxillary gland under the chin swell up and cause the face to look like Japan’s traditional masks “otafuku,” hence the Japanese name for mumps, “otafuku” illness.

Mumps are transmitted through contact with people with the virus or exposure to airborne droplets spread from sneezing. The disease is known to be highly contagious, putting even adults in jeopardy of contagion if not immune. Mumps is also known to cause complications such as meningitis and hearing loss.

When a person contracts mumps during and after puberty, there is a risk of developing contractions including orchitis and oophoritis and damaging the reproductive functions.

When a man contracts orchitis, his testis no longer produces sperms. A woman contracting oophoritis could lead to infertility.

When a pregnant woman contracts mumps at an early stage of her pregnancy, there is a risk of miscarriage. With limited options for curative medicines during pregnancy, disease prevention is key. If you are planning to have children, it might be safe to check beforehand if you possess antibodies.

If you previously contracted mumps, you are most likely to have enough antibodies in many cases. However, the possibility of recurrence of symptoms is not zero, and there is an option to conduct blood test at hospitals to confirm possible contraction or possible antibodies.

What is mumps-associated hearing loss?

Do you know a Japanese television drama series, Hanbun Aoi (Half Blue) broadcast by NHK in 2018?

The protagonist of this drama, Suzume Nireno, is illustrated as being half-deaf because of mumps that she contracted as an elementary school student.

As is previous mentioned, mumps hearing loss is an acute hearing loss symptom which occurs as a complication of mumps. 

According to the Infectious Disease Surveillance Center, mumps hearing loss often occurs on one ear and develops quickly. According to the NPO “KNOW VPD Protect our Children”, 80% of patients at their initial visit are already at high degree of hearing loss.

The disease can occur on both ears.

Mumps-associated hearing loss is said to be a difficult disease to cure. According to the survey conducted by the Oto-Rhino-Laryngological Society of Japan in 2015 and 2016, at least 348 people were contracted with Mumps hearing loss in those two years, and nearly 300 patients suffered from after effects. The largest group of patients was children, but quite a few cases were observed among people in their 30s, who may have been infected from their children. There seem to have been cases of contracting mumps during pregnancy, suffering from mumps-associated hearing loss, and being left with no choice but to forgo treatment. 

The best way to avoid mumps-associated hearing loss is of course not to catch the mumps virus.

Unlike many other countries, mumps vaccines aren’t regularly used in Japan. There are no universal mumps vaccinations here. But it’s important to get the vaccines considering the impact that mumps has on pregnancy and deafness. 


Author’s note 

While I kept teleworking to avoid catching the COVID-19, I got a summer cold caused by my air conditioning.

Also my jaw was swollen, which made me worried if I got mumps.

I was eventually told that it was just a cold, and it caused the lymph nodes in my neck to swell. But I double-checked with my mother about my mumps history to see if I have an immunity to the virus. She confirmed I got it when I was a little kid.

Anyone who is unsure of their immunization history or doesn’t have records, better ask their parents or see their doctor to ensure they get immunized.

 Not like COVID-19, there is a vaccine for this disease.

You can easily avoid it by getting vaccinated. 


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