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Measles and Mumps Tests

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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
Related tests: Rubella Test

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.

The Test Sample

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 United States 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.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of cases of measles in the U.S. has dropped from about 900,000 in 1941 to fewer than 150 cases a year since 1997; however, for 2011, there had been over 150 cases between January and June. The incidence of mumps infections has similarly decreased from several hundred thousand a year in the U.S. to several hundred. The decreases are due to comprehensive measles and mumps vaccination programs. While vaccines are available for each virus, combination vaccines, such as MMR that protects simultaneously against measles, mumps, and rubella, are frequently utilized. In recent years, the majority of new cases in the U.S. have occurred in occasional epidemics, primarily in people who have not been vaccinated, especially those who have traveled to areas of the world where measles or mumps are more prevalent. In 2009-2010, there was a mumps outbreak with 3,000 cases of mumps reported. In 2011 in Europe, an outbreak of measles led to the reporting of 6,500 cases from 33 countries. Because of the risk of travelers spreading the measles, outbreaks such as this are a concern for the CDC and for the U.S. and European medical communities.

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, diarrhea, 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 labor.

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 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 tear. 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.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

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.

The Test

Common Questions

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Article Sources

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.

Sources Used in Current Review

(Updated 2011 May 6). Overview of Measles Disease. CDC. [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/overview.html through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed May 2011.

Preidt, R. (2011 April 7). Travelers Bringing Measles Back to U.S., CDC Says. MedlinePlus Health Day [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_110747.html through http://www.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed May 2011.

(2010 December). Mumps: Questions and Answers. CDC, Immunization Action Coalition [On-line information]. PDF available for download at http://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p4211.pdf through http://www.immunize.org. Accessed May 2011.

Kaneshiro, N. and Zieve, D. (Reviewed 2010 July 26). Measles. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001569.htm. Accessed May 2011.

Mayo Clinic Staff (2010 May 4). Mumps. MayoClinic.com [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/mumps/DS00125/METHOD=print&DSECTION=all through http://www.mayoclinic.com. Accessed May 2011.

Vorvick, L. and Zieve, D. (Updated 2010 May 13). Mumps. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001557.htm. Accessed May 2011.

Hanson, K. (Updated 2010 August). Measles Virus – Rubeola. ARUP Consult [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.arupconsult.com/Topics/Rubeola.html?client_ID=LTD through http://www.arupconsult.com. Accessed May 2011.

Delgado, J. and Hanson, K. (Updated 2011 March). Mumps Virus. ARUP Consult [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.arupconsult.com/Topics/MumpsVirus.html through http://www.arupconsult.com. Accessed May 2011.

(2011 April 8). Measles Imported by Returning U.S. Travelers Aged 6--23 Months, 2001—2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 60(13);397-400 [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6013a1.htm?s_cid=mm6013a1_w through http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr. Accessed May 2011.

Pagana, K. D. & Pagana, T. J. (© 2011). Mosby’s Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 10th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO. Pp 854.

Sources Used in Previous Reviews

Pagana, K. D. & Pagana, T. J. (© 2007). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 8th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO. Pp 829.

Wu, A. (© 2006). Tietz Clinical Guide to Laboratory Tests, 4th Edition: Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, MO. Pp 1582-1583, 1585.

Forbes, B. et. al. (© 2007). Bailey & Scott's Diagnostic Microbiology, 12th Edition: Mosby Elsevier Press, St. Louis, MO. Pp 730, 739, 758.

(Reviewed 2008 August) Vaccines and Preventable Diseases: Measles Vaccination. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/measles/ through http://www.cdc.gov. Accessed August 2009.

Mayo Clinic Staff (2009 June 2). Measles. MayoClinic.com [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/measles/DS00331/METHOD=print through http://www.mayoclinic.com. Accessed August 2009.

Parker, A. and Uzicanin, A. (2009 July 27). Measles (Rubeola). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Travelers' Health – Yellow Book, Chapter 2 The Pre-Travel Consultation, Routine Vaccine-Preventable Diseases [On-line information]. Available online at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2010/chapter-2/measles.aspx through http://wwwn.cdc.gov. Accessed August 2009.

Kutty, P. et. al. (2009 July 27). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Travelers' Health – Yellow Book, Chapter 2 The Pre-Travel Consultation, Routine Vaccine-Preventable Diseases [On-line information]. Available online at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2010/chapter-2/mumps.aspx through http://wwwn.cdc.gov. Accessed August 2009.

(Revised 2008 December). Measles. World Health Organization [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/index.html through http://www.who.int. Accessed August 2009.

Vorvick, L. (Updated 2008 July 15). Mumps. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001557.htm. Accessed August 2009.

Dugdale, D. (Updated 2008 June 19). MMR – vaccine. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002026.htm. Accessed August 2009.

Vorvick, L. (Updated 2008 September 7). Orchitis. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001280.htm. Accessed August 2009.

Currie, D. (2008 November 18). Childhood Vaccination Rates High, but Measles Re-emerging. Medscape from The Nations Health [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/582282 through http://www.medscape.com. Accessed August 2009.

Carmody, K. and Sinert, R. (Updated 2009 March 23). Mumps. eMedicine Emergency Medicine [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/784603-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed August 2009.

Dyne, P. et. al. (Updated 2007 December 20). Pediatrics, Measles. eMedicine Emergency Medicine [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/802691-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed August 2009.

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