Detection of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Is Comparable in Clinical Samples Preserved in Saline or Viral Transport Medium

J Mol Diagn. 2020 Jul;22(7):871-875. doi: 10.1016/j.jmoldx.2020.04.209. Epub 2020 May 13.


As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic sweeps across the world, the availability of viral transport medium (VTM) has become severely limited, contributing to delays in diagnosis and rationing of diagnostic testing. Given that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) viral RNA has demonstrated stability, we posited that phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) may be a viable transport medium, as an alternative to VTM, for clinical real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) testing. The intra-individual reliability and interindividual reliability of SARS-CoV-2 qPCR were assessed in clinical endotracheal secretion samples transported in VTM or PBS to evaluate the stability of the qPCR signal for three viral targets (N gene, ORF1ab, and S gene) when samples were stored in these media at room temperature for up to 18 hours. We report that the use of PBS as a transport medium allows high intra-individual and interindividual reliability, maintains viral stability, and compares with VTM in the detection of the three SARS-CoV-2 genes through 18 hours of storage. This study establishes PBS as a clinically useful medium that can be readily deployed for transporting and short-term preservation of specimens containing SARS-CoV-2. Use of PBS as a transport medium has the potential to increase testing capacity for SARS-CoV-2, aiding more widespread screening and early diagnosis of COVID-19.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / methods*
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Humans
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Preservation, Biological
  • RNA, Viral / analysis*
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Saline Solution / chemistry*
  • Specimen Handling / methods*
  • Virus Cultivation / methods*


  • RNA, Viral
  • Saline Solution