Laboratory Testing for Mumps

Mumps is a moderately communicable viral disease that is reportable under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, 1990, Chapter H.7, Ontario Regulation 135/18.  It is characterized by fever, swelling and/or tenderness of one or more salivary glands, usually the parotid and sometimes the sublingual or submaxillary glands. However, approximately one-third of infections do not cause clinically apparent salivary gland swelling, but may present as a lower respiratory illness, particularly in children under five.

Mumps is transmitted by droplet and spread by direct contact with the saliva of a case. The incubation period is 12 to 25 days. Communicability is from 7 days before to 5 days after the onset of parotitis.

Laboratory testing is required for any suspect case of mumps and must include both acute serology and virus detection by PCR. Convalescent serology is recommended if acute serology and virus detection are negative or indeterminate. Results must be reported to Ottawa Public Health.

Acute Serology

A blood specimen for mumps antibodies, IgM and IgG, should be collected ideally within 5 days of the symptom onset.

Turnaround time: up to 5 days from receipt by Public Health Ontario Laboratories.

Virus Detection by PCR

A buccal or throat swab should be obtained within 9 days of the symptom onset (specimens should be collected using the Viral Transport Media (VTM) collection kit, item # N-0081; if provided by the Public Health Ontario Laboratories, these swab kits contain pink medium)


Approximately 50 ml of clean catch urine should be collected in a screw top sterile container within 14 days of the symptom onset.

Turnaround time: up to 3 days from receipt by Public Health Ontario Laboratories.

Convalescent Serology

If the initial IgM antibody is negative or indeterminate at onset of illness and mumps is considered likely, a convalescent serum specimen IgM and IgG for mumps should be repeated at least 10 to 14 days after the initial (acute) sample. The requisition should specify that the blood specimen is for “convalescent mumps serology”.

Storage and Transport Requirements

All virus detection specimens must be stored in the refrigerator and must be shipped cold to the laboratory.  The mumps virus is stable at 4o C for 3 days.

Laboratory Requisition Requirements

  • For suspect cases, the requisition must include the following relevant clinical information:
  • Ordering physician’s name and telephone number
  • Mumps IgG and IgM
  • Type of specimen (i.e. buccal swab)
  • Immunization history, exposure history and travel history outside Ottawa prior to the first symptom 
  • Clinical symptoms such as parotitis, orchitis, and date of onset
  • Reason for testing (i.e. “to diagnose disease”, “mumps testing”)

When visiting a community laboratory, a suspect case should ideally wear a surgical/procedure mask and be seen immediately upon arrival at the laboratory to reduce the risk of transmission to susceptible persons in the laboratory.

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