Comparison of three non-nested RT-PCR for the detection of influenza A viruses

J Clin Virol. 2000 Sep 1;17(3):167-75. doi: 10.1016/s1386-6532(00)00095-0.


Background: The viral isolation technique (VIT) is largely used as a gold standard for the detection of influenza A and B viruses in respiratory samples. Some recent studies have pointed out that the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays allow sensitive and rapid detection of influenza viruses, also providing excellent correlation with traditional methods.

Objectives and design study: The aim of this study was to evaluate the efficiency of three non-nested PCR, two PCR-hybridization assays using primers defined in M and NS genes, and one PCR which uses primers defined in NP, NS and HA genes and combines the detection of H3N2 and H1N1 hemagglutinin genes using defined primers in NP, NS and HA genes (PCR3), in comparison with an IF assay (IFA) and viral isolation technique (VIT). The study was carried out on 244 nasal samples collected mainly by practitioners of the GROG surveillance network during winter 1998-1999 for the detection of influenza A virus.

Results: Overall influenza viruses were detected more frequently by PCR techniques in 157 (64.3%), 147 (60.2%), 110 (45%) cases for PCR1, PCR2, PCR3, respectively, than by VIT or IFA, in 100 (40.9%) and 74 (30.3%) cases, respectively. Taking the positive culture samples as a reference, 100 (41.8%) samples were found to be positive for influenza A, and the sensitivity of IFA, PCR 1, PCR 2 and PCR3 techniques were 70, 100, 99, and 90%, respectively as compared with viral isolation cultures. On the other hand, as 86.5% of positive samples were positive with at least two different techniques, the sensitivity, specificity, VPP and VPN of each technique were recalculated taking into account a further criterion defining a positive sample: positivity with two techniques. We observe that techniques PCR 2 and particularly PCR 1 have very good sensitivity, respectively 98.6 and 100%, far better than the traditional techniques, IFA and culture, whilst maintaining acceptable specificity: 94.1 and 86.1%, respectively. In both cases they enable 141 (57.7%) A-positive influenza samples to be detected instead of the 100 (40.9%) obtained when culture is the reference test. IFA, culture and PCR 3 are highly specific (VPP=100%), but in comparison with PCR 1 and 2 their sensitivity, respectively 51.7, 69. 9, 77.6%, and negative predictive value are unsatisfactory. PCR 1 and 2 are superior to the other techniques to a statistically highly significant degree in terms of sensitivity, but the difference between the two is not significant.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus / genetics
  • Influenza A virus / isolation & purification*
  • Influenza, Human / diagnosis*
  • Influenza, Human / virology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasal Lavage Fluid / virology
  • Population Surveillance
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Virus Cultivation