Measles and Mumps Tests

Measles and Mumps Tests
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Measles and mumps are infections caused by similar viruses. There are different types of measles and mumps tests. These tests can:

  • Diagnose an infection you (or your child) have now or recently had
  • Show whether you are immune (protected against infection) to measles and mumps because you had a vaccination or a past infection.

Measles and mumps are both very contagious, which means that they easily spread from person to person:

  • Measles causes symptoms like a bad cold or the flu. It also causes a flat, red rash. The rash usually starts on your face and spreads all over your body.
  • Mumps causes symptoms like the flu with painful swelling of the salivary (spit) glands, which makes your cheeks and jaw puffy. In general, mumps is a milder disease than measles.

Most healthy people with measles or mumps infections will get better in about two weeks or less. But sometimes these infections cause serious complications, such as encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Measles may also cause pneumonia and serious problems during pregnancy.

In the United States, most people have been vaccinated against measles and mumps. As a result, measles has become a rare disease in this country. Most cases of measles come from unvaccinated people who have traveled to countries where measles is common and returned home with the disease.

Outbreaks of mumps still happen in the U.S., mainly in group living situations, such as colleges. Some people who have been vaccinated may still get mumps during an outbreak, but they will usually have mild symptoms.

Other names: measles immunity test, mumps immunity test, measles blood test, mumps blood test, measles viral culture, measles viral culture, measles virus by RT-PCR, mumps virus by RT-PCR, measles antibody IgM, IgG, mumps antibody IgM, IgG

What are the tests used for?

Measles testing and mumps testing can be used to:

  • Diagnose an active infection of measles or mumps. An active infection means you have a virus growing in your body now. Two types of tests are used to diagnose measles and mumps:
    • IgM antibody test. IgM antibodies are proteins your immune system makes when the measles or mumps virus is in your body. The test looks for IgM antibodies in a sample of your blood.
    • Molecular tests. These tests look for the measles or mumps virus in a sample of your blood, fluid from your nose or throat, or urine. A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is a common type of molecular test.

    An MMR antibody screening is a single blood test that is used to help diagnose both measles and mumps or to see if you are immune. MMR stands for measles, mumps, and rubella. Rubella, also known as German measles, is caused by another type of virus.

    Why do I need a measles or mumps test?

    You may need a test to check your immunity to measles and mumps if you:

    • Are pregnant or planning to become pregnant
    • Are going to attend a school or start a job that requires proof that you are immune
    • Are a health care worker who may be exposed to people with measles or mumps

    Your health care provider may order a measles or mumps test if you or your child has symptoms of measles or mumps.

    Symptoms of measles include:

    • Rash that starts on the face and spreads to the chest and legs
    • High fever
    • Cough
    • Runny nose
    • Sore throat
    • Pink eye (also called conjunctivitis)
    • Tiny white spots in the mouth

    Symptoms of mumps include:

    • Swollen, painful jaw and puffy cheeks
    • Headache
    • Earache
    • Fever
    • Muscle aches
    • Loss of appetite
    • Painful swallowing

    What happens during measles and mumps tests?

    There are different ways to test for measles and mumps. Antibody tests require a blood sample. Molecular tests often use a sample of blood or fluid from your mouth, throat, or nose:

    • Blood test. During a blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
    • Swab test. A health care professional will use a special swab to take a sample from your nose, throat, or cheek.
    • Nasal aspirate or wash. A health care professional will insert a saline solution (salt water) into your nose and remove the sample with gentle suction.

    If your provider thinks you have measles or mumps, you may have more than one test. Also, if your provider thinks measles or mumps has caused encephalitis or meningitis, you may need a spinal tap. For a spinal tap, your health care provider will insert a thin, hollow needle into your spine and withdraw a small amount of fluid for testing.

    Will I need to do anything to prepare for these tests?

    You don’t need any special preparations for measles testing or mumps testing.

    Are there any risks to these tests?

    There is very little risk to measles or mumps testing.

    • A blood test may cause slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
    • A swab test may cause a gagging feeling or even a tickle when your throat or nose is swabbed.
    • A nasal aspirate or wash may feel uncomfortable. These effects are temporary.

    What do the results mean?

    Negative test results mean that no signs of measles or mumps were found in your sample. This usually means that you don’t have measles or mumps now. If you had a negative result on an antibody test, it also means that you are not immune to measles or mumps.

    Positive test results mean different things depending on which test you had:

    • A positive result on a molecular test (PCR) means that the measles or mumps virus was found in your blood, and you have an infection now.
    • A positive result on an IgM antibody test means you have a measles or mumps infection now or you had a recent infection.
    • A positive result on an IgG antibody test means you are immune to measles or mumps because you had a vaccination or past infection.

    Talk with your provider if you have questions about test results.

    If you (or your child) have a measles or mumps infection, you should stay home for several days to recover and to make sure you don’t spread the disease. Your provider will let you know when it will be okay to return to your regular activities.

    Is there anything else I need to know about measles and mumps tests?

    Vaccination is the best protection against measles and mumps and their complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:

    • For children: Two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine given:
      • Between 12 and 15 months.
      • Between ages four and six.

      If you’re not sure whether you’re immune to measles and mumps, or if you have questions about vaccine safety, talk with your provider.

      Courtesy of MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine.