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Titer Tests

What are Titers?

A titer blood test does not normally require any special requirements or preparations for the test.  Individuals planning to take a titer blood test can eat and drink before the test and may also take all of their regular medications, vitamins, and other dietary supplements.  The blood test results are unaffected by the time of day that the blood sample is taken.

Why It Is Used

Titer blood tests are used to measure different types of antibodies in the blood.  These blood tests are often ordered to show that an individual has had a vaccination for a disease or has had the disease in the past and so does not need to be revaccinated.  Most schools in the United States require students to provide proof that they are up to date on their vaccinations before they can start attending school.  Some companies, especially those in the health care industry, require the same proof from job applicants before they can be officially hired or start working.  If vaccination records are unavailable, an individual may have blood titers drawn to show that his or her body is protected against specific infections and other diseases.

How It Works

A titer refers to a type of blood test that assesses the presence of antibodies in the immune system that may have come from a previous vaccination or a history of having a particular disease.  There are two different types of immunities that an individual can have in his or her blood.  The first type is called an active immunity.  There are two ways in which one can build an active immunity to a disease: one can receive a vaccination for the disease or have experienced the disease in the past.  Although different bodies respond to these experiences differently in terms of level of antibody production, without one of these two experiences the immunities should not be present at all.  Depending on the disease these immunities can remain present in the body over many years and, in some cases, will remain present for the individual’s entire lifetime.  This is the type of immunity for which most titer blood tests are ordered.  The other type of immunity that an individual can have is called a passive immunity.  A passive immunity is transferred from one individual to another.  This is most commonly seen when a mother transfers some of her immunities to her child either through blood while the child is in the womb, or through breast milk once the child is born.  These passive immunities generally last between a couple of weeks to a couple of months. 

Results

A high level of antibodies on a titer blood test indicates that the tested individual has either already received a vaccination for the disease being tested or has already been exposed to the disease.  A negative test result indicates that the tested individual has had no previous contact with the disease.  In some cases a test might be negative if the individual had a vaccination as a child but the vaccination has worn off.  In this case, the individual will likely need to get the vaccination again unless he or she has a vaccination record.  For most vaccinations it is not harmful to be revaccinated, but many individuals prefer to start with a titer blood test because it is much less expensive than the vaccines for which it tests. 

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