1 Department of Virology, Medical University of Vienna, Austria
2 Division of Clinical Virology, Department of Laboratory Medicine, Medical University of Vienna, Austria
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of the most important pathogen causing severe lower respiratory tract infections in all age groups often requiring hospitalization. Rapid laboratory diagnosis of RSV infection significantly decreases the use of antibiotics, additional laboratory testing and is associated with shorter hospitalization periods. The specific diagnosis of RSV infection is based on the detection of virus or viral antigens or virus specific nucleic acid sequences in respiratory secretions. The kind and quality of the clinical specimen exerts a considerable influence on the results of all currently used viral detection assays. Antigen based tests are widely available, easy to perform and the results are available in a short time but their reduced sensitivity and specificity represent a considerable shortcoming. Among the methods available isolation in cell culture was considered the gold standard for the sensitive identification of RSV but is gradually replaced by highly sensitive and specific nucleic acid amplification assays that provide more rapid results. Of these reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was the first and is still the most frequently used nucleic acid-based assay. New methodologies, as for example the real-time PCR methods allow the quantification of viral nucleic acids in the clinical sample. Disadvantages of the nucleic acid based assays are their high costs and their limited standardization.
Future research on new methodologies for the diagnosis of viral respiratory tract infections should focus on the development of sensitive, rapid and cost effective test systems allowing the screening for all probable causative agents. In addition varying testing protocols for summer and winter months based on epidemiologic data are needed to direct their practical use.
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* Address correspondence to this author at the Department für Virologie, Medizinische Universität Wien, Kinderspitalgasse 15, A-1090 Wien, Klinische Abteilung für Virologie, Klinisches Institut für Labormedizin, Medizinische Universität Wien, Währinger Gürtel 18-20, A-1090 Wien, Austria; Tel: +43 1 404 00-5149; Fax: +43 1 404 00-5135; E-mail: Theresia.Popow-Kraupp@meduniwien.ac.at