Background: The use of cell culture for the diagnosis of human metapneumovirus (hMPV) infection is uncommon at present and molecular method such as reverse-transcription PCR (RT-PCR) has been widely and most commonly used as the preferred test. We aimed to compare the results of virus isolation using Vero E6 cells with real-time RT-PCR for the detection of hMPV, since such a comparison data is not available.
Methods: Between December 2007 and July 2008, we obtained 224 nasopharyngeal swab specimens from patients with acute respiratory infection and tested by the two methods.
Results: Forty-three (19.2%) were found positive by cell culture and 62 (27.7%) by real-time RT-PCR. Cell cultures were positive for 42 of 62 specimens found positive by real-time RT-PCR (67.7% sensitivity) and for 1 of 162 specimens found negative by real-time RT-PCR (99.4% specificity), respectively. The sensitivity of the cell culture was 76.2-87.5% (mean 81.8%) when specimens were collected within 3 days after the onset of symptoms, and the sensitivity decreased to 50% or less thereafter. Among specimens collected within 3 days after symptom onset, all of the real-time RT-PCR positive specimens having a viral load of more than 1.25x105 copies/ml were found positive by cell culture.
Conclusions: Cell culture using Vero E6 cell line has 81.8% sensitivity compared with the real-time RT-PCR method, when specimens are collected within 3 days after the onset of symptoms. Thus, this method is a useful method for epidemiological and virological research even in facilities with minimal laboratory resources.