Detection of multiple respiratory pathogens during primary respiratory infection: nasal swab versus nasopharyngeal aspirate using real-time polymerase chain reaction

Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2010 Apr;29(4):365-71. doi: 10.1007/s10096-009-0865-7. Epub 2010 Jan 29.


In this study, we present the multiple detection of respiratory viruses in infants during primary respiratory illness, investigate the sensitivity of nasal swabs and nasopharyngeal aspirates, and assess whether patient characteristics and viral load played a role in the sensitivity. Healthy infants were included at signs of first respiratory tract infection. Paired nasopharyngeal aspirates and nasal swabs were collected. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was carried out for 11 respiratory pathogens. Paired nasopharyngeal aspirates and nasal swabs were collected in 98 infants. Rhinovirus (n = 67) and respiratory syncytial virus (n = 39) were the most frequently detected. Co-infection occurred in 48% (n = 45) of the infants. The sensitivity of the nasal swab was lower than the nasopharyngeal aspirate, in particular, for respiratory syncytial virus (51% vs. 100%) and rhinovirus (75% vs. 97%). The sensitivity of the nasal swab was strongly determined by the cycle threshold (CT) value (p < 0.001). The sensitivity of the swab for respiratory syncytial virus, but not rhinovirus, was 100% in children with severe symptoms (score >or=11). It is concluded that, for community-based studies and surveillance purposes, the nasal swab can be used, though the sensitivity is lower than the aspirate, in particular, for the detection of mild cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Nasopharynx / virology*
  • Nose / virology*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / virology*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Viral Load
  • Virus Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Virus Diseases / epidemiology
  • Virus Diseases / virology
  • Viruses / classification*
  • Viruses / isolation & purification*