In recent weeks, the media has been focused on the emergence in Mexico of a new human influenza A virus, H1N1, and the potential international health threat that it poses.
The severity of the human disease remains unclear, with most cases outside of Mexico having a mild clinical course. However, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the most severe influenza pandemic currently known, was also mild at the time of its initial emergence and only acquired virulence during the second wave of human disease during the winter season. Molecular tests for the detection of the H1N1 virus are urgently required.
AACC’s flagship journal Clinical Chemistry presents details for three new RT-PCR (Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction) assays for the rapid detection of cases of the newly emergent H1N1 virus.
The new assays, developed by Dr. Leo Poon and his associates in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, Queen Mary Hospital, and at the HKU-Pasteur Research Centre in Hong Kong SAR, China, allow detection and quantification of the new H1N1 virus. They do not, however, detect other, seasonal H1N1 viruses.
One of the assays can discriminate the novel H1N1 from other swine and human H1 subtype viruses. All assays are at least 500 times more sensitive than virus culture.
The assays are also highly specific; no false positives were observed in over 90 control samples tested. These assays appear to be useful for the rapid diagnosis of influenza cases with the novel H1N1 virus.
Of the three assays, the one using conventional agarose gel electrophoretic separation for identification of PCR products does not require expensive rapid PCR equipment and could be used in laboratories worldwide.