During the past decade, several new respiratory viruses and their subgroups have been discovered. All these new viruses, as well as previously known respiratory viruses, can be detected by sensitive PCR methods, which have become popular in the diagnostic workup of respiratory viral infections. Currently, respiratory viruses can be detected in up to 95% of children with lower respiratory tract illness. On the other hand, virus detection rates in asymptomatic children are also high (up to 68%), as are coinfection rates in symptomatic children (up to 43%) and justified concerns of causality have been raised. Imposing progress has been made in developing multiplex quantitative PCR assays; here, several primer sets are run within a single PCR mixture. These PCR assays give a better understanding of the dominant viral infection, of viral infections that may be incipient and of any waning infections than does a single-target PCR. Multiplex PCR assays are also gaining popularity due to their cost-effectiveness and short throughput time compared to multiple single-target PCRs. Our understanding of the indications of virus PCRs and our ability to interpret the results from a clinical point of view have improved. This paper reviews the progress in PCR assays and discusses their role in the diagnosis of lower respiratory tract infections in children.
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