Specimen Collection, Storage, and Shipment

Collecting and Shipping Specimens for Suspected Mumps Cases

When sending specimens for testing please contact your health department to determine where to submit specimens and how to ship them.

To send specimens to CDC, use the CDC Specimen Submission Form.

Please be sure to provide:

  • Contact name with telephone number and email address
  • Type of virus specimen and date collected
  • Date serum sample collected
  • MMR vaccination history [date(s) if known]
  • Clinical signs and symptoms
  • Patient’s date of birth or age
  • Onset date of parotitis or jaw swelling if applicable

Ship to:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
STAT Unit #81
Attn: Dr. Paul Rota
1600 Clifton Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
Contact Paul Rota by telephone at 404-639-4181 or by e-mail at prota@cdc.gov for additional information and to provide shipment details.

Serology (serum samples)

The first (acute-phase) serum sample should be collected as soon as possible upon suspicion of mumps disease. Collect 7–10 ml of blood in a red-top or serum-separator tube (SST). If the acute-phase serum sample collected ≤3 days after parotitis onset is negative, and the case has a negative (or not done) result for RT-PCR, a second serum sample collected 5–10 days after symptom onset is recommended because, in some cases, the IgM response is not detectable until 5 days after symptom onset.

Store specimens at 4°C and ship on wet ice packs.

Oral or buccal swab samples

Video: “Collecting a Buccal Swab Clinical Specimen for Mumps Diagnostic Testing.”

video: Collecting a Buccal Swab Clinical Specimen for Mumps Diagnostic Testing.

This short video demonstrates how to correctly collect and transport a buccal swab (the preferred sample) for the detection of mumps virus RNA.

Collect oral or buccal swab samples as soon as mumps disease is suspected. RT-PCR has the greatest diagnostic sensitivity when samples collected at first contact with a suspected case.

The buccal or oral swab specimens are obtained by massaging the parotid gland area for 30 seconds prior to swabbing the area around Stensen’s duct. A commercial product designed for the collection of throat specimens or a flocked polyester fiber swab can be used. Synthetic swabs are preferred over cotton swabs, which may contain substances that are inhibitory to enzymes used in RT-PCR. Flocked synthetic swabs appear to be more absorbent and elute samples more efficiently.

Processing the swabs within 24 hours of collection will enhance the sensitivity of both the RT-PCR and virus isolation techniques.

Swabs should be placed in 2 ml of standard viral transport medium (VTM)[1]. Allow the swab to remain in VTM for at least 1 hour (4°C). Ream the swab around the rim of the tube to retain cells and fluid in the tube. The swab can be broken off and left in the tube or discarded.

Storage and shipment: Following collection, samples should be maintained at 4°C and shipped on cold packs (4°C) within 24 hours. If there is a delay in shipment, the sample is best preserved by freezing at −70°C. Frozen samples should be shipped on dry ice.

Urine specimens

Urine samples have not been as useful as buccal and oral specimens for virus isolation or detection of mumps RNA. Unlike buccal and oral specimens, urine samples may not be positive for mumps virus until >4 days after symptom onset. A minimum volume of 50 ml of urine should be collected in a sterile container and then processed by centrifuging at 2500 × g for 15 minutes at 4°C. The sediment should be resuspended in 2 ml of VTM.

Storage and Shipment: Store urine sediment in VTM at 4°C and, if possible, ship on cold packs within 24 hours. The best method for preserving mumps virus in processed (centrifuged) urine is to freeze the sample at −70°C and ship on dry ice. See information on shipping, including where to send samples for testing.


[1] Cell culture medium (minimal essential medium or Hanks’ balanced salt solution) or other sterile isotonic solution (e.g. phosphate buffered saline) can be used. The presence of protein, for example 1% bovine albumin, 0.5% gelatin, or 2% serum, stabilizes the virus. Samples without a source of protein in the medium will lose 90%–99% infectivity within 2 hours at 4°C.

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