Potential False-Negative Nucleic Acid Testing Results for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 from Thermal Inactivation of Samples with Low Viral Loads.Clin Chem. 2020 06 01; 66(6):794-801.CC
Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) has spread widely throughout the world since the end of 2019. Nucleic acid testing (NAT) has played an important role in patient diagnosis and management of COVID-19. In some circumstances, thermal inactivation at 56°C has been recommended to inactivate severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) before NAT. However, this procedure could theoretically disrupt nucleic acid integrity of this single-stranded RNA virus and cause false negatives in real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests.
We investigated whether thermal inactivation could affect the results of viral NAT. We examined the effects of thermal inactivation on the quantitative RT-PCR results of SARS-CoV-2, particularly with regard to the rates of false-negative results for specimens carrying low viral loads. We additionally investigated the effects of different specimen types, sample preservation times, and a chemical inactivation approach on NAT.
Our study showed increased Ct values in specimens from diagnosed COVID-19 patients in RT-PCR tests after thermal incubation. Moreover, about half of the weak-positive samples (7 of 15 samples, 46.7%) were RT-PCR negative after heat inactivation in at least one parallel testing. The use of guanidinium-based lysis for preservation of these specimens had a smaller impact on RT-PCR results with fewer false negatives (2 of 15 samples, 13.3%) and significantly less increase in Ct values than heat inactivation.
Thermal inactivation adversely affected the efficiency of RT-PCR for SARS-CoV-2 detection. Given the limited applicability associated with chemical inactivators, other approaches to ensure the overall protection of laboratory personnel need consideration.