Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Viral Tests

Viral Tests

Test Overview

A viral test is done to find infection-causing viruses. Viruses grow only in living cells. Viruses cause disease by destroying or damaging the cells they infect, damaging the body's immune system, changing the genetic material (DNA) of the cells they infect, or causing inflammation that can damage an organ. Viruses cause many types of diseases, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cold sores, chickenpox, measles, flu (influenza), and some types of cancer.

Viral tests may be done for viruses such as:

  • Herpes simplex.
  • Chickenpox. This is caused by a form of the herpes virus called varicella-zoster virus (VZV). A viral test may be done to see if a person has formed immunity from having chickenpox or after getting the chickenpox vaccine.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
  • Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV).
  • Rotavirus.
  • Hepatitis.
  • Genital warts (human papillomavirus, or HPV).
  • Influenza (flu).
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • BK virus.

Different types of samples are used for a viral test. They include blood, urine, stool (feces), organ tissue, spinal fluid, and saliva. The type of sample used for the test depends on the type of infection that may be present.

Why It Is Done

Why It Is Done

A viral test is done to:

  • Find a viral infection that is causing symptoms.
  • Check a person after exposure to a virus. For example, a viral test may be done after a health professional is accidentally stuck with a needle containing contaminated blood to see if they became infected with the virus.
  • Find a viral infection in a potential blood donor to prevent the donation of infected blood.
  • Find a viral infection in an organ to be transplanted.
  • Test a pregnant woman who has a high risk of passing a serious viral infection on to her baby.
  • Check if a person has immunity to a specific virus.
How To Prepare

How To Prepare

Preparations for a viral test depend on the type of infection that may be present and the sample that will be tested. Your health professional will give you any specific instructions before your test.

How It Is Done

How It Is Done

Samples can be collected in several ways.

  • A health professional uses a needle to take a blood sample, usually from the arm.
  • A tissue sample can be taken directly from the infection, such as a throat swab or skin scraping.
  • A sample of stool, urine, or nasal washings may be taken.
  • A sample of spinal fluid can be taken through a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
  • A biopsy sample may be taken using a needle or other tool.
How It Feels

How It Feels

The amount of discomfort or pain you feel depends on the method used to collect a sample for the test. Generally, a viral test does not cause pain or the pain goes away after the test.

Risks

Risks

In general, the chance of problems from the test depends on the method used to collect a sample for testing. Your doctor can talk to you about any specific risks of the test.

Results

Results

It may take as little as 1 day or up to several weeks to get test results.

The results of some viral tests (antibody or antigen tests) are reported in titers. A titer is a measure of how much the sample can be diluted before the viral antibodies or antigens can no longer be detected.

Depending on the virus, it can take weeks for antibodies to develop after you've been exposed to the virus. In these cases, test results may be negative early in the course of the infection. This is called a false-negative test result. Another blood sample may need to be taken later to check again for a viral infection. Antibody titers that get higher over 3 weeks from the first sample to the second mean the infection occurred recently.

Viral test

Normal (results that don't show a viral infection are called negative):

Antibody test:

No antibodies to the virus are found.

Viral antigen detection test:

No antigens made by the viral infection are found.

Viral culture:

No viral infection is seen in the culture.

Viral DNA or RNA detection test:

No viral DNA or RNA is found.

Abnormal (results that show a viral infection are called positive):

Antibody test:

Antibodies to a virus are found. But if you have a second antibody test and the results are not higher than the first test, this may mean the infection occurred in the past and is not a problem now.

Viral antigen detection test:

Viral antigens are found.

Viral culture:

Changes occur in the culture that show a viral infection.

Viral DNA or RNA detection test:

Viral DNA or RNA is found.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Medical Tests: Questions to Ask the Doctor

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details