Also Known As
Arthropod-borne Virus Testing
Arbovirus Serology IgM and IgG Antibodies
Arbovirus Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests
Formal Name
Arbovirus Testing
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on
May 21, 2018.
At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

To determine the cause of viral meningitis or encephalitis or illness causing a fever that occurs during the warmer months of the year; to investigate the source of epidemics and track their spread

When To Get Tested?

When you have symptoms suggesting an arbovirus infection, such as fever, headache, stiff neck, muscular weakness and a diagnosis of encephalitis and/or meningitis

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm or cerebrospinal fluid collected from a spinal tap

Test Preparation Needed?

None

You may be able to find your test results on your laboratory's website or patient portal. However, you are currently at Lab Tests Online. You may have been directed here by your lab's website in order to provide you with background information about the test(s) you had performed. You will need to return to your lab's website or portal, or contact your healthcare practitioner in order to obtain your test results.

Lab Tests Online is an award-winning patient education website offering information on laboratory tests. The content on the site, which has been reviewed by laboratory scientists and other medical professionals, provides general explanations of what results might mean for each test listed on the site, such as what a high or low value might suggest to your healthcare practitioner about your health or medical condition.

The reference ranges for your tests can be found on your laboratory report. They are typically found to the right of your results.

If you do not have your lab report, consult your healthcare provider or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range.

Laboratory test results are not meaningful by themselves. Their meaning comes from comparison to reference ranges. Reference ranges are the values expected for a healthy person. They are sometimes called "normal" values. By comparing your test results with reference values, you and your healthcare provider can see if any of your test results fall outside the range of expected values. Values that are outside expected ranges can provide clues to help identify possible conditions or diseases.

While accuracy of laboratory testing has significantly evolved over the past few decades, some lab-to-lab variability can occur due to differences in testing equipment, chemical reagents, and techniques. This is a reason why so few reference ranges are provided on this site. It is important to know that you must use the range supplied by the laboratory that performed your test to evaluate whether your results are "within normal limits."

For more information, please read the article Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

What is being tested?

Arboviruses (arthropod-borne virus) cause viral infections that are transmitted between humans by mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects, such as ticks. Arbovirus testing detects either antibodies produced by the body's immune system in response to a specific arbovirus infection or it detects the virus's genetic material in blood or cerebrospinal fluid.

Found throughout the world, arboviruses are an important cause of viral meningitis and encephalitis. In temperate climates, they tend to cause occasional seasonal epidemics. In tropical climates, they may be found year-round, whenever mosquitoes are active.

These viruses are spread when a mosquito, or sometimes another insect carrier (vector) such as a tick or sandfly, bites an infected bird or other small animal and becomes infected, then bites a human and passes it on. Arbovirus infections are usually not directly passed from person-to-person. Sometimes, an infection may be transmitted through a blood transfusion, organ transplant, sexual contact, from a pregnant woman to her baby, or from a mother to child through breast milk.

Arbovirus testing is used along with a person's signs, symptoms, and history of exposure and travel to detect and confirm an acute arbovirus infection and to distinguish between an infection and other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.

Depending on the virus causing the infection, people infected by an arbovirus may have only mild to moderate flu-like symptoms that resolve within a few days to a few weeks. In some cases, a sudden onset of high fever may be accompanied by a rash (dengue fever), jaundice (yellow fever), or severe joint pain and debilitating symptoms. Depending on the virus, a person may develop severe symptoms that may be life-threatening and require hospitalization.

There are hundreds of different arboviruses, but most are not common. Examples of arboviruses include:

Virus/Illness Insect Carrier Found In:
Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) Mosquito Eastern U.S.
Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE) Mosquito Western U.S.
Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis (VEE) Mosquito South and Central America, rarely U.S.
Chikungunya Fever (CHIKV) Mosquito Africa, Asia, some in Southern Europe and the Caribbean
Ross River Virus Mosquito Australia
Yellow Fever Mosquito South America, Africa, rare epidemics in U.S.
Dengue Fever Mosquito South America, Asia, tropical tourist destinations, Caribbean
Zika Virus Mosquito Primarily in Caribbean, South America, Africa, Asia
Japanese Encephalitis Mosquito Asia
West Nile Virus Mosquito Throughout U.S.
St. Louis Encephalitis Mosquito Eastern and Central U.S.
Powassan Encephalitis Tick Eastern U.S.
LaCrosse Virus Mosquito South America, Central America, Asia, Central and Eastern U.S.
Rift Valley Fever Mosquito, Tick, Sandfly Africa and Middle East
Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever Tick Asia, Africa, Europe
Colorado Tick Fever Tick Europe, U.S.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm and/or cerebrospinal fluid is collected from a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) .

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

No test preparation is needed.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is it used?

    Arbovirus testing is used to determine whether a person with signs and symptoms and a recent history of potential exposure to a specific arbovirus has been infected. Testing can help diagnose the cause of meningitis or encephalitis, distinguish an arbovirus infection from other conditions causing similar symptoms, such as bacterial meningitis, and can help guide treatment.

    Typically, the individual test ordered is specific for a particular arbovirus, such as West Nile Virus (WNV) or dengue fever, depending on the person's symptoms and likely exposure. Sometimes, a panel of tests may be used to determine which arbovirus is causing the infection.

    Two types of tests are available:

    Antibody Tests
    Antibody testing detects specific arbovirus antibodies produced in response to an infection. There are two classes of antibodies that may be tested:

    • IgM antibodies are produced first and are present within a week or two after infection. Levels in the blood rise for a few weeks, then taper off. After a few months, IgM antibodies fall below detectable levels. IgM antibody testing is the primary test performed on the blood or cerebrospinal fluid of symptomatic people.
    • IgG antibodies are produced after IgM antibodies. Typically, the level rises with an acute infection, stabilizes, and then persists long-term. IgG tests may be ordered along with IgM testing to help diagnose a recent or previous arbovirus infection. Sometimes testing is done by collecting two samples 2 to 4 weeks apart (acute and convalescent samples) and measuring the IgG level (titer). This may help determine whether antibodies are from a recent or past infection.

    Antibody tests may cross-react with viruses that are similar, so a second test that employs a different method, such as nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) or a neutralization assay, may be used to confirm positive results.

    Nucleic Acid Amplification Test
    A nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) amplifies and measures the arbovirus's genetic material to detect the presence of the virus. It can detect a current infection with the virus, often before antibodies to the virus are detectable, but there must be a certain amount of virus present in the sample in order to detect it. For most arboviruses, virus levels in humans are usually low and do not persist for very long.

  • When is it ordered?

    Testing is primarily ordered when a person has signs and symptoms suggesting a current arbovirus infection, especially if the person lives in or has recently traveled to an area where a specific arbovirus is endemic.

    In the U.S., an arbovirus infection may be suspected when symptoms arise during mid to late summer. In warmer areas, infections may occur year-round.

    Some signs and symptoms may include:

    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Muscle weakness and pain
    • Joint pain
    • Nausea
    • Skin rash

    A small percentage of people, especially the young, elderly, and immunocompromised, may have more serious symptoms associated with meningitis and encephalitis. These symptoms may include:

    • High fever
    • Severe headaches
    • Convulsions
    • Confusion
    • Stiff neck
    • Muscular paralysis

    Antibody tests may be ordered within the first week or two of the onset of symptoms to detect an acute infection. An additional blood sample may be collected 2 to 4 weeks later to determine if the antibody level is rising. When an infection of the central nervous system is suspected, antibody testing may be performed on cerebrospinal fluid as well as blood.

  • What does the test result mean?

    Results of arbovirus testing require careful interpretation, taking into consideration the individual's signs and symptoms as well as risk of exposure.

    Antibody Tests
    Antibody tests may be reported as positive or negative, or may be reported as less than or greater than a certain titer. For example, if the established threshold is a titer of 1:10, then a result less than this is considered negative while a titer greater than this is considered positive.

    If IgM or IgG antibody is detected in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), it suggests that an arbovirus infection is present in the central nervous system. If a CSF antibody test is negative, then it suggests that there is no central nervous system involvement or the level of antibody is too low to detect.

    If IgM and IgG arbovirus antibodies are detected in an initial blood sample, then it is likely that the person became infected with the arbovirus within the last few weeks. If the IgG is positive but the IgM is low or negative, then it is likely that the person had an arbovirus infection sometime in the past. If the arbovirus IgG antibody titer increases four-fold between an initial sample and one taken 2 to 4 weeks later, then it is likely that a person has had a recent infection.

    Negative results for IgM and/or IgG antibodies may suggest that symptoms are due to a different cause, such as bacterial meningitis. However, the person may still have an arbovirus infection – it may just be that it is too soon after initial exposure to the virus and there has not been enough time to produce a detectable level of antibody. If suspicion of arbovirus remains high, antibody testing may be repeated at a later time or a NAAT test may be done as follow up.

    The following table summarizes results that may be seen with antibody testing:

    IgM Result IgG Result Possible Interpretation
    Positive Negative Current infection
    Positive Positive Recent infection
    Low or negative or not tested Four-fold increase in samples taken 2-4 weeks apart Recent infection
    Low or negative Positive Past infection
    Negative Negative
    • Too soon after initial exposure for antibodies to develop
    • Symptoms due to another cause

    A positive result on an initial test for IgM arbovirus antibody in blood or CSF is considered a presumptive positive since antibodies to viruses in the same family may cross-react. It suggests a diagnosis, but it is not definitive. A positive result on a second test using a different method (NAAT or neutralization assay) confirms the diagnosis.

    Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing (NAAT)
    A positive NAAT for an arbovirus indicates infection with that specific virus.

    A negative NAAT means there is no virus present in the sample tested or the virus is present in very low (undetectable) numbers. A negative test cannot be used to definitely rule out the presence of an arbovirus.

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    The presence of arbovirus antibodies may indicate an infection but cannot be used to predict the severity of an individual's symptoms or the person's prognosis.

    Other tests, such as antigen tests for dengue fever and viral cultures, may be used in some instances. NAAT and viral cultures may be used in research settings and by the medical community at a national and international level to identify and study the strains of arboviruses causing infections. Different strains have been isolated and associated with regional epidemics.

    Molecular tests such as NAAT may be performed at a public health laboratory or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They may be done before a diagnosis is established and officially reported to the CDC.

    NAAT testing is now routinely used in the U.S. to screen units of donated blood for West Nile Virus and for Zika virus and may be performed on the blood of tissue and organ donors prior to transplantation. It may be used to test the tissues of a person who has died (post mortem) to determine whether a specific arbovirus may have caused or contributed to the person's death.

    Arbovirus testing can also be performed on suspected host animals and mosquito pools to detect the presence and spread of an arbovirus in the community and region. This information can be used to help investigate outbreaks, identify and monitor infection sources, and to guide efforts to prevent the spread of the infection.

  • Should everyone be tested for arboviruses?

    In general, there is no need. Most people who become infected have few to mild symptoms and are only exposed to those arboviruses that are present in the areas where they live or travel. Testing is not usually done on asymptomatic people, but when a blood or organ recipient or an infant becomes infected with an arbovirus such as West Nile Virus, antibody testing may be ordered on the asymptomatic donor or mother to help determine whether she was the source of the infection.

  • Are arboviruses something I should worry about when I travel?

    Every region in the world has its own health concerns and it is prudent to read about the areas where you will be traveling and to talk to your healthcare provider about the risks for infection. There is an increased risk of an arbovirus infection when traveling to a tropical location or to an area that has seasonal outbreaks. A person's likelihood of exposure will be influenced by that person's planned activities and by the preventive measures that the person takes. (For more on the specific diseases related to your travels, visit the Destinations page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site.)

  • What can I do to protect against arboviruses?

    Protection begins with preventing mosquito bites. Measures may include wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors, using insect repellent, and staying indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Around your home, you can eliminate standing water sources that attract mosquitoes. Communities can take preventive measures by monitoring the seasonal risks and spraying for mosquitoes as warranted.

  • Are there vaccines for arboviruses?

    There is a vaccine for Yellow fever for humans and there are several vaccines for the equine encephalitis viruses that have been developed for horses. Research in this area continues.

  • Who performs arbovirus testing?

    Depending on the arbovirus that is suspected, testing may be performed by a reference laboratory, your local, state or territorial public health laboratory, or by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

View Sources

Sources Used in Current Review

(January 2016) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Areas with Zika. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html. Accessed July 2, 2016.

(January 2016) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dengue. Available online at https://www.cdc.gov/dengue/. Accessed July 2, 2016.

(2012) Medscape. West Nile Virus and other Arboviral Diseases. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/807540. Accessed July 2, 2016.

(July 2012) Texas Department of State Health Services. Fact Sheet – Arboviral Encephalitides. Available online at http://www.dshs.texas.gov/idcu/disease/arboviral/arboviral_encephalitides/factsheets/factSheet/. Accessed July 2, 2016.

(December 2015) Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Arborviral Diseases – Laboratory Guidance. Available online at https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/arboviral/labguide.htm. Accessed July 2, 2016.

Sources Used in Previous Reviews

(Updated 2010 August 16). Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Arboviral Diagnostic Testing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/EasternEquineEncephalitis/tech/diagnosis.html. Accessed February 2012.

Delgado, J. and Hillyard, D. (Updated 2012 January). Arboviruses. ARUP Consult [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.arupconsult.com/Topics/Arboviruses.html. Accessed February 2012.

(Modified 2011 October 31). Virology / Serology – Arbovirus. NC Division of Public Health, State Laboratory of Public Health [On-line information]. Available online at http://slph.ncpublichealth.com/virology-serology/arbovirus.asp. Accessed February 2012.

(Updated 2011 July 6). Arbovirus. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Office of Laboratory Services [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.wvdhhr.org/labservices/labs/virology/arbovirus.cfm. Accessed February 2012.

Hunt, M. (Modified 2010 April 9). Virology – Chapter Twenty One Arboviruses. Microbiology and Immunology On-line from University of South Carolina School of Medicine [On-line information]. Available online at http://pathmicro.med.sc.edu/mhunt/arbo.htm. Accessed February 2012.

(© 1995–2012). Test ID: ARBOP83267 Arbovirus Antibody Panel, IgG and IgM, Serum. Mayo Clinic Mayo Medical Laboratories. [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/test-catalog/Overview/83267. Accessed February 2012.

Kaye, K. (Revised 2009 December). Overview of Arbovirus, Arenavirus, and Filovirus Infections. Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals [On-line information]. Available online through http://www.merckmanuals.com. Accessed February 2012.

Jaffar-Bandjee, M. et. al. (© 2010). Emergence and Clinical Insights into the Pathology of Chikungunya Virus Infection. Medscape Today from Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. V 8(9):987-996 [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/733879. Accessed February 2012.

Busowski, M. et. al. (Updated 2011 September 15). Yellow Fever. Medscape Reference [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/232244-overview. Accessed February 2012.

Anderson, W. et. al. (Updated 2011 June 17). California Encephalitis Medscape Reference [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/234159-overview. Accessed February 2012.

Viroj Wiwanitkit, V. (2012 January 29). The Importance of Accurate Diagnosis of Dengue Fever. Medscape Today from Future Virology. 2012;7(1):53-62. [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/756315. Accessed February 2012.

Wiwanitkit, V. (2010 August 18). Dengue Fever: Diagnosis and Treatment. Medscape Today from Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. v 8(7):841-845. [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/725639. Accessed February 2012.

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Barnard, R. et. al. (2011 June 15). Expecting the Unexpected. Medscape Today News from Expert Rev Mol Diagn. V 11(4):409-423 [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/742370. Accessed February 2012.

Tomashek, K. (Updated 2011 July 1). Dengue Fever & Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever. CDC Travelers' Health, Chapter 3 Infectious Diseases Related To Travel [On-line information]. Available online at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-3-infectious-diseases-related-to-travel/dengue-fever-and-dengue-hemorrhagic-fever.htm. Accessed February 2012.

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