JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Replacing traditional diagnostics of fecal viral pathogens by a comprehensive panel of real-time PCRs.

Molecular DNA-based diagnostics are increasingly being used for diagnosis of viral infections. For enteric viruses, PCR assays have also been developed. The aims of this study were to compile and evaluate a comprehensive panel of PCR assays for diagnosis of viruses causing diarrheal disease and to evaluate its use in a largely pediatric population in a 750-bed university medical center. The PCR panel was designed to include assays for detection of adenovirus, astrovirus, enterovirus, norovirus, parechovirus, rotavirus, and sapovirus. The results of the PCR panel were evaluated in relation to conventional viral diagnostics consisting of viral culture and/or rotavirus and adenovirus rapid antigen tests on samples that were taken for routine diagnostics. Comparing conventional with PCR-based testing, the number of viruses detected increased dramatically from 25 to 106 when PCR assays were used. This increase was due mainly to detection of previously undetected viruses, i.e., astrovirus, norovirus, and sapovirus. In 24% of the samples, norovirus was detected. Also, the lower detection limit of PCR-based adenovirus, enterovirus, parechovirus, and rotavirus diagnostics further increased the detection rate. By focusing on samples from patients with complaints of gastroenteritis, detection of a causative agent was increased from 49% by conventional tests to 97% by molecular diagnostics. However, many samples containing low viral loads were found in patients with complaints other than intestinal complaints. In conclusion, the proposed comprehensive PCR panel with appropriate cutoff values can be used for sensitive, rapid, and clinically relevant diagnosis of gastrointestinal viruses.

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