Measles virus (MeV) is an important cause of acute febrile illness and pediatric mortality globally, with recent U.S. outbreaks associated with under-vaccination. MeV is highly contagious and timely diagnosis is critical to limit spread. RNA detection is the most sensitive method for acute measles diagnosis; however, MeV nucleic acid amplification assays are not widely available.
We performed a diagnostic accuracy study of a triple-target, real-time RT-PCR (rRT-PCR) assay for simultaneous detection of MeV N, H, and L genes.
The MeV triple-target rRT-PCR was tested against serial dilutions (7.0-2.0 log copies/mL) of five MeV isolates representing circulating genotypes, and detected 98.7% (74/75) of nasopharyngeal (NP) swab dilutions, 100% (75/75) of plasma dilutions, and 85.3% (64/75) of urine dilutions. MeV RNA detection in urine was markedly improved with the addition of a nucleic acid stabilizing agent. A 95% lower limit of detection (LLOD) of < 3.0 log copies/mL was established in each specimen matrix. No cross-reactivity with relevant viruses or interfering substances were identified in specificity studies. The MeV triple-target rRT-PCR detected all three gene targets in a clinical NP swab from an individual with confirmed measles infection. Furthermore, pooled testing from 798 influenza A/B/RSV-negative pediatric NP swabs identified two specimens positive for MeV RNA, confirmed by N gene sequencing to represent shedding of the vaccine-type measles virus.
The MeV triple-target rRT-PCR assay showed high analytic sensitivity across circulating MeV genotypes in three clinically-relevant matrices. Implementation of this assay in the clinical laboratory may facilitate timely diagnosis of acute measles infection and implementation of appropriate infection control interventions.

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References

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