Predicting Infectious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 From Diagnostic Samples

Jared Bullard, Kerry Dust, Duane Funk, James E Strong, David Alexander, Lauren Garnett, Carl Boodman, Alexander Bello, Adam Hedley, Zachary Schiffman, Kaylie Doan, Nathalie Bastien, Yan Li, Paul G Van Caeseele, Guillaume Poliquin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) has become the primary method to diagnose viral diseases, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). RT-PCR detects RNA, not infectious virus; thus, its ability to determine duration of infectivity of patients is limited. Infectivity is a critical determinant in informing public health guidelines/interventions. Our goal was to determine the relationship between E gene SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR cycle threshold (Ct) values from respiratory samples, symptom onset to test (STT), and infectivity in cell culture.

METHODS: In this retrospective cross-sectional study, we took SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR-confirmed positive samples and determined their ability to infect Vero cell lines.

RESULTS: Ninety RT-PCR SARS-CoV-2-positive samples were incubated on Vero cells. Twenty-six samples (28.9%) demonstrated viral growth. Median tissue culture infectious dose/mL was 1780 (interquartile range, 282-8511). There was no growth in samples with a Ct > 24 or STT > 8 days. Multivariate logistic regression using positive viral culture as a binary predictor variable, STT, and Ct demonstrated an odds ratio (OR) for positive viral culture of 0.64 (95% confidence interval [CI], .49-.84; P < .001) for every 1-unit increase in Ct. Area under the receiver operating characteristic curve for Ct vs positive culture was OR, 0.91 (95% CI, .85-.97; P < .001), with 97% specificity obtained at a Ct of > 24.

CONCLUSIONS: SARS-CoV-2 Vero cell infectivity was only observed for RT-PCR Ct < 24 and STT < 8 days. Infectivity of patients with Ct > 24 and duration of symptoms > 8 days may be low. This information can inform public health policy and guide clinical, infection control, and occupational health decisions. Further studies of larger size are needed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Infectious Diseases
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)2663-2666
Number of pages4
Publication statusPublished - 17-Dec-2020


  • Animals
  • COVID-19
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • RNA, Viral
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Vero Cells


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