Highly accurate and sensitive diagnostic detection of SARS-CoV-2 by digital PCR
Posted 18 Mar 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.14.20036129
Posted 18 Mar 2020
BACKGROUNDThe outbreak of COVID-19 caused by a novel Coronavirus (termed SARS-CoV-2) has spread to over 140 countries around the world. Currently, reverse transcription quantitative qPCR (RT-qPCR) is used as the gold standard for diagnostics of SARS-CoV-2. However, the positive rate of RT-qPCR assay of pharyngeal swab samples are reported to vary from 30[~]60%. More accurate and sensitive methods are urgently needed to support the quality assurance of the RT-qPCR or as an alternative diagnostic approach. METHODSWe established a reverse transcription digital PCR (RT-dPCR) protocol to detect SARS-CoV-2 on 194 clinical pharyngeal swab samples, including 103 suspected patients, 75 close contacts and 16 supposed convalescents. RESULTSThe limit of blanks (LoBs) of the RT-dPCR assays were [~]1.6, [~]1.6 and [~]0.8 copies/reaction for ORF 1ab, N and E genes, respectively. The limit of detection (LoD) was 2 copies/reaction. For the 103 fever suspected patients, the sensitivity of SARS-CoV-2 detection was significantly improved from 28.2% by RT-qPCR to 87.4% by RT-dPCR. For close contacts, the suspect rate was greatly decreased from 21% down to 1%. The overall sensitivity, specificity and diagnostic accuracy of RT-dPCR were 90%, 100% and 93 %, respectively. In addition, quantification of the viral load for convalescents by RT-dPCR showed that a longer observation period was needed in the hospital for elderly patients. CONCLUSIONRT-dPCR could be a confirmatory method for suspected patients diagnosed by RT-qPCR. Furthermore, RT-dPCR was more sensitive and suitable for low viral load specimens from the both patients under isolation and those under observation who may not be exhibiting clinical symptoms.
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