Chikungunya virus RNA and antibody testing at a National Reference Laboratory since the emergence of Chikungunya virus in the Americas

Clin Vaccine Immunol. 2015 Mar;22(3):291-7. doi: 10.1128/CVI.00720-14. Epub 2014 Dec 24.


Since first reported in the Americas in December 2013, chikungunya virus (CHIKV) infections have been documented in travelers returning from the Caribbean, with many cases identified by CHIKV antibody and/or RNA testing at our laboratory. We used our large data set to characterize the relationship between antibody titers and RNA detection and to estimate IgM persistence. CHIKV RNA was measured by nucleic acid amplification and CHIKV IgG/IgM by indirect immunofluorescence. Of the 1,306 samples submitted for RNA testing in January through September 2014, 393 (30%) were positive; for 166 RNA-positive samples, CHIKV antibody testing was also ordered, and 84% were antibody negative. Of the 6,971 sera submitted for antibody testing in January through September 2014, 1,811 (26%) were IgM positive; 1,461 IgM positives (81%) were also IgG positive. The relationship between the CHIKV antibody titers and RNA detection was evaluated using 376 IgM-positive samples (138 with RNA testing ordered and 238 deidentified and tested for RNA). RNA detection showed no significant association with the IgM titer but was inversely related to the IgG titer; 63% of the IgG negative sera were RNA positive, compared to 36% of sera with low IgG titers (1:10 to 1:80) and 16% with IgG titers of ≥1:160. Using second-sample results from 62 seroconverters, we estimated that CHIKV IgM persists for 110 days (95% confidence interval, 78 to 150 days) after the initial antibody-negative sample. These findings indicate that (i) RNA detection is more sensitive than antibody detection early in CHIKV infection, (ii) in the absence of RNA results, the IgG titer of the IgM-positive samples may be a useful surrogate for viremia, and (iii) CHIKV IgM persists for approximately 4 months after symptom onset.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Americas / epidemiology
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • Chikungunya Fever / diagnosis*
  • Chikungunya virus / genetics
  • Chikungunya virus / immunology*
  • Chikungunya virus / isolation & purification*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Indirect
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Immunoglobulin M / blood
  • Immunologic Tests
  • RNA, Viral*
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Viremia / diagnosis


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • RNA, Viral