METHODS: We developed and validated an internally controlled one-step single-tube real-time RT-PCR in terms of sensitivity, linearity, precision, and specificity for simultaneous detection of EVs and EV-A71. Subsequently, the assay was then applied on throat and rectal swabs sampled from 434 HFMD patients.
RESULTS: The assay was evaluated using both plasmid DNA and viral RNA and has shown to be reproducible with a maximum assay variation of 4.41 % and sensitive with a limit of detection less than 10 copies of target template per reaction, while cross-reactivity with other EV serotypes was not observed. When compared against a published VP1 nested RT-PCR using 112 diagnostic throat and rectal swabs from 112 children with a clinical diagnosis of HFMD during 2014, the multiplex assay had a higher sensitivity and 100 % concordance with sequencing results which showed EVs in 77/112 (68.8 %) and EV-A71 in 7/112 (6.3 %). When applied to clinical diagnostics for 322 children, the assay detected EVs in throat swabs of 257/322 (79.8 %) of which EV-A71 was detected in 36/322 (11.2 %) children. The detection rate increased to 93.5 % (301/322) and 13.4 % (43/322) for EVs and EV-A71, respectively, when rectal swabs from 65 throat-negative children were further analyzed.
CONCLUSION: We have successfully developed and validated a sensitive internally controlled multiplex assay for rapid detection of EVs and EV-A71, which is useful for clinical management and outbreak control of HFMD.