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Measles and Mumps Tests

What are measles and mumps tests?

Measles and mumps are infections caused by similar viruses. They are both very contagious, meaning they easily spread from person to person. Measles and mumps mostly affect children.

  • Measles can make you feel like you have a bad cold or the flu. It will also cause a flat, red rash. This rash usually starts on your face and spreads all over your body.
  • Mumps can also make you feel like you have the flu. It causes painful swelling of the salivary glands. These glands are located in your cheek and jaw area.

Most people with measles or mumps infections will get better in about two weeks or less. But sometimes these infections can cause serious complications, including meningitis (swelling of the brain and spinal cord) and encephalitis (a type of infection in the brain). Measles and mumps testing can help your health care provider find out if you or your child has been infected with one of the viruses. It may also help prevent the spread of these diseases in your community.

Other names: measles immunity test, mumps immunity test, measles blood test, mumps blood test, measles viral culture, measles viral culture

What are the tests used for?

Measles testing and mumps testing can be used to:

  • Find out whether you have an active infection of measles or mumps. An active infection means you have symptoms of the illness.
  • Find out whether you are immune to measles or mumps because you've been vaccinated or have had either virus before.
  • Help public health officials track and monitor outbreaks of measles or mumps.

Why do I need a measles or mumps test?

Your health care provider may order tests 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
  • Itchy, red eyes
  • Tiny white spots in the mouth

Symptoms of mumps include:

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

What happens during measles and mumps tests?

  • A 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. Your health care provider will use a special swab to take a sample from your nose or throat.
  • Nasal aspirate. Your health care provider will inject a saline solution into your nose, then remove the sample with gentle suction.
  • Spinal tap, if meningitis or encephalitis is suspected. 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.

  • For a blood test, you may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
  • For a swab test, you may feel a gagging sensation or even a tickle when your throat or nose is swabbed.
  • The nasal aspirate may feel uncomfortable. These effects are temporary.
  • For a spinal tap, you may feel a little pinch or pressure when the needle is inserted. Some people may get a headache after the procedure.

What do the results mean?

If your test results are negative, it likely means you do not have and have never been exposed to measles or mumps. If your test results are positive, it can mean one of the following:

  • A measles diagnosis
  • A mumps diagnosis
  • You have been vaccinated for the measles and/or mumps
  • You have had a previous infection of measles and/or mumps

If you (or your child) tests positive for measles and/or mumps and have symptoms of illness, you should stay at home for several days to recover. This will also help make sure you don't spread the disease. Your health care provider will let you know how long you will be contagious and when it will be okay to return to your regular activities.

If you've been vaccinated or have had a previous infection, your results will show that you have been exposed to the measles virus and/or mumps virus at one time in your life. But you will not be sick or have any symptoms. It also means you should be protected from getting sick in the future. Vaccination is the best protection against measles and mumps and their complications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine; one in infancy, the other before starting school. Talk to your child's pediatrician for more information. If you are an adult, and don't know if you have been vaccinated or were ever sick with the viruses, talk to your health care provider. Measles and mumps tend to make adults sicker than children.

If you have questions about your test results or your vaccination status, talk to your health care provider.

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

Instead of separate measles and mumps tests, your health care provider may order a combination blood test called an MMR antibody screening. MMR stands for measles, mumps, and rubella. Rubella, also known as German measles, is another type of viral infection.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Complications of Measles [updated 2017 Mar 3; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 7 screens]. Available from:
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Measles (Rubeola): Signs and Symptoms [updated 2017 Feb 15; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 4 screens]. Available from:
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Mumps: Signs and Symptoms of Mumps [updated 2016 Jul 27; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 3 screens]. Available from:
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Routine Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine [updated 2016 Nov 22; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 3 screens]. Available from:
  5. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. Washington D.C.: American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2017. Measles and Mumps: The Test [updated 2015 Oct 30; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 3 screens]. Available from:
  6. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. Washington D.C.: American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2017. Measles and Mumps: The Test Sample [updated 2015 Oct 30; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 2 screens]. Available from:
  7. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2017. Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): Risks; 2014 Dec 6 [cited Nov 9]; [about 4 screens]. Available from:
  8. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co. Inc.; c2017. Measles (Rubeola; 9-day Measles) [cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 2 screens]. Available from:
  9. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co. Inc.; c2017. Mumps (Epidemic Parotitis) [cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 2 screens]. Available from:
  10. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co. Inc.; c2017. Tests for Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerve Disorders [cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 2 screens]. Available from:
  11. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; What Are the Risks of Blood Tests? [updated 2012 Jan 6; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 5 screens]. Available from:
  12. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; What To Expect with Blood Tests [updated 2012 Jan 6; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 4 screens]. Available from:
  13. UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. University of Florida; c2017. Measles: Overview [updated 2017 Nov 9; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 2 screens]. Available from:
  14. UF Health: University of Florida Health [Internet]. University of Florida; c2017. Mumps: Overview [updated 2017 Nov 9; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 2 screens]. Available from:
  15. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2017. Health Encyclopedia: Diagnostic Tests for Neurological Disorders [cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 2 screens]. Available from:
  16. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2017. Health Encyclopedia: Measles, Mumps, Rubella Antibody [cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 2 screens]. Available from:
  17. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2017. Health Encyclopedia: Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Vaccine [cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 2 screens]. Available from:
  18. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2017. Health Encyclopedia: Rapid Influenza Antigen (Nasal or Throat Swab) [cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 2 screens]. Available from:
  19. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2017. Health Information: Measles (Rubeola) [updated 2016 Sep 14; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 5 screens]. Available from:
  20. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2017. Health Information: Mumps [updated 2017 Mar 9; cited 2017 Nov 9]; [about 5 screens]. Available from:

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The medical information provided is for informational purposes only, and is not to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact your health care provider with questions you may have regarding medical conditions or the interpretation of test results.

In the event of a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.
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