Diagnostic Assays for Respiratory Syncytial Virus Disease


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Abstract

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in the United States and worldwide is a major cause of morbidity and mortality and of outpatient visits, hospitalizations, and increased healthcare costs. Effective diagnosis of viral respiratory infections, as well as recognition and understanding of the benefits and limitations of diagnostic laboratory testing, is essential. Serology is not useful for diagnosing acute respiratory illness. Antigen-based assays are widely available, easy to use, provide rapid results, and are inexpensive; however, they are less sensitive than cell culture utilizing good specimen collection and processing techniques. Cell culture, which was previously considered the gold standard for identification of respiratory viruses, in many settings is being replaced by nucleic acid amplification assays that have even greater sensitivity and provide more rapid results. Although available chiefly at large hospitals and reference laboratories, molecular assays may fulfill the need for more sensitive and rapid diagnosis of illnesses caused by respiratory viruses. The seasonality of RSV as measured by nucleic acid amplification-based assays appears to be broader with better identification of patient populations that harbor RSV between yearly epidemic peaks compared with the seasonality of RSV as measured by the older techniques. As these new diagnostic methodologies emerge, guidelines will be needed to direct their appropriate use in the diagnostic laboratory.

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