Also Known As
Rubeola
Parotitis
Formal Name
Measles (Rubeola) IgM and IgG Antibodies; Measles (Rubeola) Viral Culture; Measles Virus Isolation by RT-PCR; Mumps IgM and IgG Antibodies; Mumps Viral Culture; Mumps Virus Isolation by RT-PCR
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on
15 January 2018.
At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

To diagnose a measles or mumps infection; to establish whether a person has immunity to measles or mumps due to a previous infection or to vaccination; to confirm a measles or mumps case and investigate its source

When To Get Tested?

When a person has symptoms or complications that a doctor suspects are due to a measles or mumps infection; whenever it is necessary or desired to determine measles or mumps immunity

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm for measles or mumps antibody testing; to detect the virus itself, sample may be blood, urine, nasopharyngeal aspirate/washing, throat swab, swab of the inside of the cheek (buccal swab), cerebrospinal fluid, or other body tissue

Test Preparation Needed?

Prior to collection of a buccal swab for mumps, the salivary gland located in front of and below the ear (parotid gland) is massaged. For other specimens, no test preparation is needed.

On average it takes 7 working days for the blood test results to come back from the hospital, depending on the exact tests requested. Some specialist test results may take longer, if samples have to be sent to a reference (specialist) laboratory. The X-ray & scan results may take longer. If you are registered to use the online services of your local practice, you will be able to access your results online.

If the doctor wants to see you about the result(s), you will be offered an appointment. If you are concerned about your test results, you will need to arrange an appointment with your doctor so that all relevant information including age, ethnicity, health history, signs and symptoms, laboratory and other procedures (radiology, endoscopy, etc.), can be considered.

Lab Tests Online-UK is an educational website designed to provide patients and carers with information on laboratory tests used in medical care. We are not a laboratory and are unable to comment on an individual's health and treatment.

Reference ranges are dependent on many factors, including patient age, gender, sample population, and test method, and numeric test results can have different meanings in different laboratories.

For these reasons, you will not find reference ranges for the majority of tests described on this web site. The lab report containing your test results should include the relevant reference range for your test(s). Please consult your doctor or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range if you do not have the lab report.

For more information on reference ranges, please read Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

What is being tested?

Measles (rubeola) and mumps are members of the Paramyxoviridae family of viruses. They both cause illnesses in children throughout the world that are preventable through vaccination. Vaccination has drastically reduced the number of people affected by measles in the UK and in many parts of the world, but the World Health Organization (WHO) still lists measles as a leading cause of death in young children. According to their estimates, measles affects more than 20 million people a year and is responsible for close to 200,000 deaths, primarily in children under the age of five. These numbers take into account efforts that led to the vaccination of 576 million children in high risk countries from 2000 to 2007 and a corresponding decrease in the number of measles deaths by 74% during the same time period. Mumps, a milder illness, is not as widely vaccinated against and is still endemic in many parts of the world.

Measles, also called rubeola, is an extremely contagious viral infection that is transmitted through respiratory secretions. The virus infects cells in the lungs and at the back of the throat and causes symptoms such as a high fever, dry cough, red eyes, light sensitivity, a runny nose, sore throat, tiny white spots inside the mouth, and a characteristic rash that typically starts on the face and spreads down the body to the trunk and legs. Most people recover within a couple of weeks, but up to 20% develop complications that may include an ear infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhoea, encephalitis, or blindness. People who are malnourished, have a vitamin A deficiency, or have compromised immune systems are frequently more severely affected. Women who are pregnant when they are infected with measles are at a greater risk of miscarriage or of premature labour.

Mumps is a viral infection that is transmitted through respiratory secretions or saliva. After a 2 to 3 week incubation period, an infected person typically develops flu-like symptoms such as a headache, muscle aches, and fever that are followed by characteristic parotitis – swelling of the salivary (parotid) glands below one or both ears. For most people, mumps is a mild, self-limited illness, but some may develop complications such as deafness, inflammation of the testicles (orchitis) or ovaries (oophoritis), pancreatitis, meningitis, or encephalitis.

Measles (rubeola) and mumps testing involves the detection of antibodies in the blood or, less commonly, the detection of the mumps or measles virus in a culture. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing may be performed to confirm and investigate the source of measles infections. This testing is used to detect the measles virus and determine its genetic strain. Less commonly, RT-PCR mumps testing may also be performed. The choice of test is dependent on the stage of illness in which the affected person is seen. For example, early in the infection, the test of choice may be detection of the virus by culture or PCR while later in the infection, testing for antibody provides the most reliable result.

How is the sample collected for testing?

The sample required depends on whether testing is being done to determine the presence of antibody or to detect the virus itself. Antibody testing requires a blood sample, obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm. Viral culturing or viral RNA RT-PCR molecular tests may be performed on a variety of samples, including blood, urine, nasopharyngeal aspirate/washing, throat swab, a swab of the inside of the cheek (buccal swab), cerebrospinal fluid, or other body tissue.

A nasopharyngeal swab is collected by having you tip your head back and then a Dacron swab (like a long Q-tip with a small head) is gently inserted into one of your nostrils until resistance is met. It is left in place for several seconds, then rotated several times to collect cells, and withdrawn. This is not painful, but it may tickle a bit and cause your eyes to water. For a nasal aspirate, a syringe is used to push a small amount of sterile saline into your nose and then gentle suction is applied to collect the resulting fluid.

In order to fully evaluate a suspected measles case, the CDC recommends the collection of blood as well as samples for culture and RT-PCR testing.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

Prior to collection of a buccal swab for mumps, the salivary gland located in front of and below the ear (parotid gland) is massaged. For other specimens, no test preparation is needed.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is it used?

    Measles and mumps tests are primarily used to confirm that a person is immune to the viruses due to previous infections or vaccination. Doctors most frequently diagnose current measles and mumps infections based upon characteristic clinical findings.

    Testing performed on suspected cases is used to confirm a diagnosis of an active or recent infection and may be required for public health purposes, especially if typical symptoms are not present. It may also be requested along with other tests to distinguish between different causes of complications, such as an investigation of meningitis or swelling of the salivary glands found below and in front of the ear (parotitis) that may also be caused by bacterial infections.

    Genetic testing (RT-PCR) is used to confirm suspected cases of measles and to investigate the source of the infection. This is done to tie cases together, in order to identify and address outbreaks, and to monitor the presence and movement of measles' genetic strains in the UK. and worldwide. This type of testing may also be performed for the mumps virus.

    There are several methods of detecting a measles or mumps infection:

    Antibody testing
    Measles and mumps antibodies are virus-specific proteins produced by the immune system in response to an infection by the measles or mumps virus, or in response to vaccination. There are two types of antibodies produced, IgM and IgG. The first type to appear in the blood after exposure or vaccination is the IgM antibody. Levels of IgM antibodies increase for several days to a maximum concentration and then begin to fall over the next few weeks. IgG antibodies take a bit longer to appear, but once they do, they stay in the bloodstream for life, providing protection against re-infection.

    Viral isolation (detection)
    Viral isolation involves finding the mumps or measles virus in a body fluid sample. This can be done either by culturing the virus or by detecting the virus's genetic material (RT-PCR).

    Viral genetic testing (RT-PCR) detects and identifies the genetic strain of the virus. This testing is most often requested to confirm and evaluate suspected active cases of measles or mumps. Viral detection testing may occasionally be performed to identify the cause of severe complications that may be associated with an infection from the measles or mumps virus. Since people with weakened immune systems may not have a typical antibody response, a viral culture or a test to detect viral genetic material may be performed to confirm the diagnosis of a mumps or measles infection, especially if antibody results do not match clinical findings or a doctor's suspicions.

  • When is it requested?

    Measles or mumps IgM and IgG antibody tests and/or acute and convalescent IgG antibody testing may be requested when a person has characteristic signs and symptoms or when a doctor suspects that a person has a current or recent measles or mumps infection. An IgG antibody test for measles or mumps may be requested whenever a doctor wants to determine whether a person is immune to one or both of the viruses, either because of a previous infection or due to vaccination.

    A viral culture or a test to detect viral genetic material (RT-PCR) may be performed whenever a doctor wants to detect the virus and confirm a mumps or measles infection as the cause of a person's symptoms or complications and when an investigation of the source of the infection is warranted. These tests are typically requested early in the course of the infection.

    Signs and symptoms of measles develop 7-18 days after exposure and usually include one or more of the following:

    • A characteristic rash that usually starts on the face and spreads down the body to the trunk and legs
    • High fever
    • Dry cough
    • Red eyes
    • Sensitivity to light
    • A runny nose
    • Sore throat
    • Tiny white spots inside the mouth

    Most people recover within a couple of weeks, but up to 20% develop complications that may include an ear infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhoea, encephalitis, or blindness.

    Symptoms of mumps typically develop after a 2 to 3 week incubation period and often resemble symptoms of the flu such as:

    • Headache
    • Muscle aches
    • Fever
    • These are followed by characteristic swelling of the salivary glands below one or both ears called parotitis.

    Mumps is most often a mild self-limited illness, but some people may develop complications such as deafness, inflammation of the testicles (orchitis) or ovaries (oophoritis), pancreatitis, meningitis, or encephalitis.

  • What does the test result mean?

    Antibody testing:
    When measles or mumps IgM antibodies are present in someone who has not been recently vaccinated, then it is likely that the person has a current measles or mumps infection. When both IgM and IgG antibodies are present or there is a fourfold increase in concentrations between acute and convalescent IgG antibody tests, then it is likely that the person has a current or had a recent measles or mumps infection. 

    Viral isolation (detection):
    If the measles or mumps virus is detected in a viral culture or test for the virus's genetic material, then the person has a current viral infection.

    If a specific strain of measles or mumps virus is identified, then this genetic strain is both responsible for the infection and present at the tested person's location in the UK. This information can be used to help determine the source of a measles or mumps infection – such as recent travel to a specific country, or recent exposure to another person with an active infection. The result of measles or mumps genetic testing is used by the CDC to monitor the movement of the virus and to identify outbreaks and prevent further spread.

    If measles or mumps viruses are not identified in a viral detection test, it does not necessarily mean that the person does not have an active infection. The virus may have been present in numbers too low to detect or may not have been present in the sample tested.

     

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    The measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine contains a live, attenuated (weakened) form of the viruses. Those with weakened immune systems and those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant within the next month should not receive the vaccine.

  • If I have measles or mumps and develop complications, will they go away once the infection resolves?

    In most cases they will, but some complications, such as blindness, deafness, and rarely tissue or organ damage, may be permanent. The swelling of testicles (orchitis) that is sometimes seen with mumps can occasionally cause sterility.

  • When do people typically get measles and mumps vaccinations?

    Two doses of the MMR vaccine are needed for full protection. Children are given the first dose of MMR vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age and a booster immunisation is typically given before the start of school at 4 to 6 years of age.

  • Should everyone be tested for measles and mumps immunity?

    A test to document antibody response to the MMR vaccine is not recommended since most people mount an antibody response to the viruses in the vaccine. There are several common situations, such as entry to a university or employment in a health care setting, where you may need to provide proof that you have had the measles and mumps infections, or that you have had two MMR vaccinations, or that you have immunity to measles and mumps infection.