Evaluation of PCR testing of ethanol-fixed nasal swab specimens as an augmented surveillance strategy for influenza virus and adenovirus identification

A. E. Krafft*, K. L. Russell, A. W. Hawksworth, S. McCall, M. Irvine, L. T. Daum, J. L. Connoly, A. H. Reid, J. C. Gaydos, J. K. Taubenberger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Viral culture isolation has been widely accepted as the "gold standard" for laboratory confirmation of viral infection; however, it requires ultralow temperature specimen storage. Storage of specimens in ethanol at room temperature could expand our ability to conduct active surveillance and retrospective screenings of viruses with rapid and inexpensive real-time PCR tests, including isolates from remote regions where freezing specimens for culture is not feasible. Molecular methods allow for rapid identification of viral pathogens without the need to maintain viability. We hypothesized that ethanol, while inactivating viruses, can preserve DNA and RNA for PCR-based methods. To evaluate the use of ethanol-stored specimens for augmenting surveillance for detection of influenza viruses A and B and adenoviruses (AdV), paired nasal swab specimens were collected from 384 recruits with febrile respiratory illness at Fort Jackson, S.C., in a 2-year study. One swab was stored at ambient temperature in 100% ethanol for up to 6 months, and the other swab was stored at -70°C in viral medium. For viral detection, frozen specimens were cultured for a variety of respiratory viruses, and ethanol-fixed specimens were tested with TaqMan (TM) probe and LightCycler SYBR green (SG) melting curve assays with at least two different PCR targets for each virus. The sensitivities of the TM and SG assays on specimens stored in ethanol for 1 month were 75% and 58% for influenza A, 89% and 67% for influenza B, and 93 to 98% and 57% for AdV, respectively. Lower specificities of the real-time assays corresponded to the increased detection of PCR-positive but culture-negative specimens. Influenza virus RNA was detected as well or better after 6 months of storage in ethanol.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1768-1775
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Clinical Microbiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2005
Externally publishedYes


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