Mumps and Rubella-Overlooked and Disrespected?

June 1, 2015

Rarely in the news, eclipsed by measles, these wall-flower viruses are not benign when they strike. Do you remember their consequences?

Mumps and rubella vaccines-I suspect if they could talk they would express feelings a lot like Rodney Dangerfield’s-that they get little respect, their infections often overlooked alongside the deadlier measles virus. 

It’s true, they don’t get a lot of press because they are so effectively prevented by the MMR vaccine-but let’s see what you remember from school about these now-wallflower diseases.

Following is a list of consequences of mumps and/or rubella disease seen either in the infected individual or in an infant born to an infected mother. Some may be a consequence of both diseases; others may not be related to either one. See if you can match the the potential consequences, 1-8, with the disease(s), A-D.

1. Pancreatitis                         5. Sterility in both sexes

2. Deafness                             6. Cataracts

3. Orchitis                               7. Spontaneous abortion 

4. Oophoritis                           8. Birth defects  


A. Mumps          B. Rubella           C. Both              D. Neither

You can print this page out from your browser as a worksheet-or, use your own scratch pad to note your selections. 


Please click here for answers and brief discussions.



1. PancreatitisMumps only. About 4% of individuals with mumps developed pancreatitis

2. Deafness
Both mumps and rubella.
Deafness is a common consequence of congenital rubella syndrome (CRS). Mumps was actually a major cause of sudden-onset deafness in children, sometimes temporary and sometimes permanent, in the prevaccine era.

3. Orchitis Mumps only. Orchitis occurs in 12% to 66% of post-pubertal males, depending on the study. Presentation is bilateral 60% to 80% of the time. I suspect these facts made this vaccine an “easy sell” to adolescent males when it became available in 1967.

4. Oophoritis
Mumps only.
Oophoritis occurs in about 5% of post-pubertal females infected with mumps.

5. Sterility in both sexes
Mumps only.
While orchitis leads to some degree of testicular atrophy in about half the cases, sterility in males is rare, even in cases of bilateral orchitis from mumps. On the other hand, mumps infection in pre-pubertal girls did have a significant statistical relationship with infertility, perhaps due to a disturbance of follicular maturation. Rubella is not associated with sterility.

6. Cataracts
Rubella only.
A rubella infection in a mother's first trimester puts the fetus at high risk for developing CRS with cataracts, deafness, mental retardation, and congenital heart disease. This was not a rarity. In 1964-1965 during a rubella epidemic that caused infection in 12.5 million Americans, 20,000 babies were born with CRS.

7. Spontaneous abortion
Both mumps and rubella.
Rubella was estimated to have caused more than 11,000 fetal deaths with either elective or spontaneous abortion in 1964-1965. Mumps can also cause spontaneous miscarriage, but at a much lower rate, in women infected in the first trimester.

8. Birth defects Rubella only. Mumps is not associated with any birth defects.