A blood sample is needed. The procedure is done in the following way:
The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic).
The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.
The health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein.
The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle.
The elastic band is removed from your arm.
The needle is removed.
The puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.
In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin and make it bleed. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. Afterward, a bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.
How to prepare for the test
There is no special preparation needed.
How the test will feel
When the needle is inserted to draw blood, you may feel moderate pain only a prick or stinging. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.
Why the test is performed
This test is done to identify someone who has been infected by RSV recently or in the past.
This test does not detect the virus itself. If the body has produced antibodies against RSV, then either a current or past infection has occurred.
In infants, RSV antibodies that have been passed from mother to baby may also be detected.
A negative test means the person does not have antibodies to RSV in the blood. This means the person has never had an RSV infection.
What abnormal results mean
A positive test means the person has antibodies to RSV in the blood. These antibodies may be present because:
A positive test in people older than infants means there is a current or past infection with RSV. Most adults and older children have had an RSV infection.
Infants may have a positive test because antibodies were passed from their mother to them before they were born. This may mean they have not had a true RSV infection.
Some children younger than 24 months get a shot with antibodies to RSV to protect them. These children will also have a positive test.
What the risks are
There is very little risk involved with having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Taking blood from some people may be more difficult than from others.
Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:
Fainting or feeling light-headed
Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)
This test is not very useful because it does not detect RSV directly. It is not recommended in infants because the mother's antibodies may be detected. It is not useful in adults because most people have antibodies due to a past infection.
Breese HC. Respiratory syncytial virus. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandel, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Disease. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 158.
Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.