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Clin Chem. 2003 Dec;49(12):1976-80.

Quantitative analysis and prognostic implication of SARS coronavirus RNA in the plasma and serum of patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome.

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Department of Chemical Pathology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China.



The availability of an early diagnostic tool for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) would have major public health implications. We investigated whether the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) can be detected in serum and plasma samples during the early stages of SARS and studied the potential prognostic implications of such an approach.


We developed two real-time quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) assays, one for the polymerase and the other for the nucleocapsid region of the virus genome, for measuring the concentration of SARS-CoV RNA in serum/plasma samples from SARS patients. Plasma samples were obtained from 12 confirmed SARS patients on the day of hospital admission, as well as on days 7 and 14 after fever onset. Serum samples were also obtained from 23 confirmed SARS patients on the day of hospital admission, 11 of whom subsequently required intensive care. Viral RNA was extracted from the plasma/serum samples. The extracted RNA was subjected to analysis by the RT-PCR assays.


The RT-PCR system for the polymerase region detected SARS-CoV RNA in 50% of plasma and 78% of serum samples from SARS patients during the first week of illness. The detection rates for plasma dropped to 25% at day 14 after fever onset. The median serum SARS-CoV concentrations in patients who required and did not require intensive care unit admission during the course of hospitalization were 5800 and 140 copies/mL, respectively (Mann-Whitney test, P <0.005). These data were confirmed by the RT-PCR system for the nucleocapsid region, which showed an even higher detection rate of 87%. The correlation between the results obtained by the two RT-PCR systems was high (Pearson correlation analysis, r = 0.998; P <0.001).


Plasma/serum SARS-CoV quantification represents a potentially useful early diagnostic and prognostic tool for SARS.

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