Nucleic acid amplification-based diagnosis of respiratory virus infections
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The appearance of eight new respiratory viruses in the human population in the past 9 years, including two new pandemics (SARS coronavirus in 2003 and swine-origin influenza A/H1N1 in 2009), has tested the ability of virology laboratories to develop diagnostic tests to identify these viruses. Nucleic acid amplification tests (NATs) that first appeared two decades ago have been developed for both conventional and emerging viruses and now form the backbone of the clinical laboratory. NATs provide fast, accurate and sensitive detection of respiratory viruses and have significantly increased our understanding of the epidemiology of these viruses. Multiplex PCR assays have been introduced recently and several commercial tests are now available. The final chapter in the evolution of respiratory virus diagnostics will be the addition of allelic discrimination and detection of single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with antiviral resistance to multiplex assays. These resistance assays together with new viral load tests will enable clinical laboratories to provide physicians with important information for optimal treatment of patients.
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