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J Clin Microbiol. 2003 Sep;41(9):4160-5.

Comparison of quantitative reverse transcription-PCR to viral culture for assessment of respiratory syncytial virus shedding.

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  • 1Department of Medicine. Infectious Disease Unit, Rochester General Hospital, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, New York 14621, USA. ann.falsey@viahealth.org


Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has recently been recognized as a serious pathogen in elderly and immunocompromised adults. Diagnosis of acute infection in adults is often difficult due to the insensitivity of viral culture, and reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) is a more sensitive alternative. The relationship of quantitative RT-PCR to viable virus has never been studied for RSV. Therefore, we compared a quantitative real-time RT-PCR with viral culture to assess viral load in adult volunteers challenged with the RSV A2 strain. Twelve of 13 volunteers were infected, and there was a high correlation (r = 0.84) between quantitative RT-PCR and viral titer by cell culture. However, RT-PCR was more sensitive, with 73 of 169 (43%) samples positive compared to 58 (34%) samples positive by culture. The correlation between the two tests was highest early in the course of viral shedding (r = 0.91, days 0 to 6), whereas during days 7 to 13, there was more variability (r = 0.70). All subjects were culture negative by day 11, whereas one subject remained RT-PCR positive on day 12. All subjects were RT-PCR negative at day 28 postinfection. Quantitative RT-PCR has an excellent correlation with viral titers, as measured by culture, and should be a useful tool for future studies addressing viral load and disease pathogenesis.

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