Lab Testing for Mumps at the MDH Public Health Laboratory

Though mumps is no longer common in the United States, outbreaks continue to occur as a result of internationally imported or import-linked cases. Continued success in disease reduction is dependent on maintaining awareness of the disease along with improving vaccination rates.  

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On this page:
Report suspect mumps cases
Clinical features and differential diagnoses

Lab tests offered at MDH-PHL
Preferred specimens: PCR
Specimen collection: PCR
Approved swabs and media
Transporting specimens to MDH

Report suspect mumps cases

If you suspect mumps in a patient:

  • Call MDH at 651-201-5414 or toll-free at 1-877-676-5414
  • Provide clinical details
  • Collect specimens for PCR testing

Hospitals and clinics are required by law to report suspect cases of mumps within one working day to MDH. However, calling while the patient is still in the office ensures timely reporting and guarantees that the correct specimen is collected and sent.

Clinical features and differential diagnoses

Mumps is characterized by:

  • Non-specific prodrome including myalgia, anorexia, malaise, headache, and low-grade fever
  • Acute onset of unilateral or bilateral tender swelling of the parotid or salivary gland lasting 2 or more days without other apparent cause

Mumps should be considered in the differential diagnosis of patients presenting with parotitis or swelling of the salivary glands, regardless of vaccination history.                                                                                

MDH also encourages health care providers to consider other infectious and non-infectious causes of parotitis. Other etiologies include:

  • Influenza A, Parainfluenza virus types 1 and 3, Coxsackie A virus, Cytomegalovirus, Epstein Barr virus, Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, HIV
  • Acute bacterial suppurative parotitis (Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus spp.)
  • Recurrent parotitis
  • Drug reactions, allergies, tumors, immunologic diseases

Lab tests offered at MDH Public Health Laboratory

Mumps Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR, or PCR) is available for mumps case confirmation at the MDH Public Health Laboratory (MDH-PHL). Providers are asked to collect and send PCR specimens to MDH-PHL when mumps is suspected. Serologic testing for diagnostic purposes is not available at MDH-PHL.

Preferred specimens: PCR

Clinical specimens for PCR should be taken as soon as mumps is suspected. Viral RNA is more likely to be detected when the specimen is collected as soon as possible after parotitis (or other symptom) onset. Ideally, specimens for mumps PCR should be obtained within 0-3 days of parotitis onset (0-9 days at most). Consider the parotitis (or other symptom) onset date as day ‘0.’

Please send the following specimens to the MDH-PHL, in order of preference:

  1. Buccal swab
  2. Throat swab
  3. Urine specimenǂ

ǂIf date of specimen collection is on day 5-9 after parotitis/symptom onset (day 0), urine is preferred over other specimens. If date of specimen collection is already more than 9 days past parotitis/symptom onset, PCR is less likely to detect viral presence and may give false negative results.

Specimen collection: PCR

Buccal swab:Massage the buccal cavity (the space near the upper rear molars between the cheek and the teeth) for 30 seconds and swab the area; obtain a generous amount of saliva. Place swab in a sterile tube containing 2-3 ml of viral transport medium (VTM) (see Approved swabs and media).

Throat swab:Vigorously swab tonsillar areas and posterior nasopharynx with a viral culturette. Use tongue blade to depress tongue to prevent contamination of swab with saliva. Place swab into VTM.

Urine specimen: Collect 10 ml of urine in a STERILE urine specimen container. First-morning voided specimens are ideal, but any urine collection is adequate. Have patient void directly into container, collecting from the first part of the urine stream if possible.

Approved swabs and media


  • VTM
  • M5
  • M4
  • MEM
  • Saline
  • Balanced salt solutions (BSS)
  • Sterile isotonic solutions
  • Phosphate buffered salines (PBS)
  • Stuart’s Liquid Media
  • BBL Culture Swab
  • Culturettes

Not Appropriate

  • Wood-tipped applicators
  • Calcium-alginate tipped swabs
  • Charcoal swabs
  • Gel swabs
  • Anaerobic media

Transporting specimens to MDH

  • Label all tubes/containers with the following information:
    • Patient name
    • Patient date of birth
    • Date specimen collected
    • Specimen type
  • Include an Infectious Disease Testing and Submission Form for each specimen.
  • Fill out the form as completely as possible and be sure to indicate which test is requested.
  • Specimens should be kept and transported at refrigeration temperature (2-8° C).
  • Before shipping, always consult with an MDH epidemiologist at 651-201-5414 or 877-676-5414.
  • Send to MDH Public Health Laboratory via overnight shipping.
  • For help with packaging and shipping, call MDH-PHL Biological Accessioning at 651-201-4953.

Send specimens to arrive Monday-Friday before 4:30 p.m. to:
MDH Public Health Laboratory
Attn: Biological Accessioning
601 Robert St. N.
St. Paul, MN 55155-2531

Updated Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 02:59PM