Respiratory tract samples, viral load, and genome fraction yield in patients with Middle East respiratory syndrome

J Infect Dis. 2014 Nov 15;210(10):1590-4. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiu292. Epub 2014 May 15.


Background: Analysis of clinical samples from patients with new viral infections is critical to confirm the diagnosis, to specify the viral load, and to sequence data necessary for characterizing the viral kinetics, transmission, and evolution. We analyzed samples from 112 patients infected with the recently discovered Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

Methods: Respiratory tract samples from cases of MERS-CoV infection confirmed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) were investigated to determine the MERS-CoV load and fraction of the MERS-CoV genome. These values were analyzed to determine associations with clinical sample type.

Results: Samples from 112 individuals in which MERS-CoV was detected by PCR were analyzed, of which 13 were sputum samples, 64 were nasopharyngeal swab specimens, 30 were tracheal aspirates, and 3 were bronchoalveolar lavage specimens; 2 samples were of unknown origin. Tracheal aspirates yielded significantly higher MERS-CoV loads, compared with nasopharyngeal swab specimens (P = .005) and sputum specimens (P = .0001). Tracheal aspirates had viral loads similar to those in bronchoalveolar lavage samples (P = .3079). Bronchoalveolar lavage samples and tracheal aspirates had significantly higher genome fraction than nasopharyngeal swab specimens (P = .0095 and P = .0002, respectively) and sputum samples (P = .0009 and P = .0001, respectively). The genome yield from tracheal aspirates and bronchoalveolar lavage samples were similar (P = .1174).

Conclusions: Lower respiratory tract samples yield significantly higher MERS-CoV loads and genome fractions than upper respiratory tract samples.

Keywords: Ct value; MERS-CoV; Middle East; RT-PCR; clinical; coronavirus; diagnosis; genome fraction; molecular; screening; viral load.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology*
  • Humans
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Respiratory System / virology*
  • Viral Load*