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J Clin Virol. 2011 Nov;52(3):210-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jcv.2011.07.015. Epub 2011 Aug 19.

Non-invasive sample collection for respiratory virus testing by multiplex PCR.

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  • 1University of Utah, Department of Pediatrics, Salt Lake City, UT 84108, USA.



Identifying respiratory pathogens within populations is difficult because invasive sample collection, such as with nasopharyngeal aspirate (NPA), is generally required. PCR technology could allow for non-invasive sampling methods.


Evaluate the utility of non-invasive sample collection using anterior nare swabs and facial tissues for respiratory virus detection by multiplex PCR.


Children aged 1 month-17 years evaluated in a pediatric emergency department for respiratory symptoms had a swab, facial tissue, and NPA sample collected. All samples were tested for respiratory viruses by multiplex PCR. Viral detection rates were calculated for each collection method. Sensitivity and specificity of swabs and facial tissues were calculated using NPA as the gold standard.


285 samples from 95 children were evaluated (92 swab-NPA pairs, 91 facial tissue-NPA pairs). 91% of NPA, 82% of swab, and 77% of tissue samples were positive for ≥1 virus. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and human rhinovirus (HRV) were most common. Overall, swabs were positive for 74% of virus infections, and facial tissues were positive for 58%. Sensitivity ranged from 17 to 94% for swabs and 33 to 84% for tissues. Sensitivity was highest for RSV (94% swabs and 84% tissues). Specificity was ≥95% for all viruses except HRV for both collection methods.


Sensitivity of anterior nare swabs and facial tissues in the detection of respiratory viruses by multiplex PCR varied by virus type. Given its simplicity and specificity, non-invasive sampling for PCR testing may be useful for conducting epidemiologic or surveillance studies in settings where invasive testing is impractical or not feasible.

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