A method for detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in healthy human stool: a validation study

Michael P. Coryell, Mikhail Iakiviak, Nicole Pereira, Pallavi P. Murugkar, Jason Rippe, David B. Williams, Taylor Heald-Sargent, L. Nelson Sanchez-Pinto, Jairo Chavez, Jessica L. Hastie, Rosa L. Sava, Christopher Z. Lien, Tony T. Wang, William J. Muller, Michael A. Fischbach, Paul E. Carlson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Faecal shedding of SARS-CoV-2 has raised concerns about transmission through faecal microbiota transplantation procedures. Validation parameters of authorised tests for SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection in respiratory samples are described in product labelling, whereas the published methods for SARS-CoV-2 detection from faecal samples have not permitted a robust description of the assay parameters. We aimed to develop and validate a test specifically for detection of SARS-CoV-2 in human stool. Methods: In this validation study, we evaluated performance characteristics of a reverse transcriptase real-time PCR (RT-rtPCR) test for detection of SARS-CoV-2 in human stool specimens by spiking stool with inactivated SARS-CoV-2 material. A modified version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention RT-rtPCR SARS-CoV-2 test was used for detection of viral RNA. Analytical sensitivity was evaluated in freshly spiked stool by testing two-fold dilutions in replicates of 20. Masked samples were tested by a second laboratory to evaluate interlaboratory reproducibility. Short-term (7-day) stability of viral RNA in stool samples was assessed with four different stool storage buffers (phosphate-buffered saline, Cary-Blair medium, Stool Transport and Recovery [STAR] buffer, and DNA/RNA Shield) kept at −80°C, 4°C, and ambient temperature (approximately 21°C). We also tested clinical stool and anal swab specimens from patients who were SARS-CoV-2 positive by nasopharyngeal testing. Findings: The lower limit of detection of the assay was found to be 3000 viral RNA copies per g of original stool sample, with 100% detection across 20 replicates assessed at this concentration. Analytical sensitivity was diminished by approximately two times after a single freeze-thaw cycle at −80°C. At 100 times the limit of detection, spiked samples were generally stable in all four stool storage buffers tested for up to 7 days, with maximum changes in mean threshold cycle values observed at −80°C storage in Cary-Blair medium (from 29·4 [SD 0·27] at baseline to 30·8 [0·17] at day 7; p<0·0001), at 4°C storage in DNA/RNA Shield (from 28·5 [0·15] to 29·8 [0·09]; p=0·0019), and at ambient temperature in STAR buffer (from 30·4 [0·24] to 32·4 [0·62]; p=0·0083). 30 contrived SARS-CoV-2 samples were tested by a second laboratory and were correctly identified as positive or negative in at least one of two rounds of testing. Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected using this assay in the stool and anal swab specimens of 11 of 23 individuals known to be positive for SARS-CoV-2. Interpretation: This is a sensitive and reproducible assay for detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in human stool, with potential uses in faecal microbiota transplantation donor screening, sewage monitoring, and further research into the effects of faecal shedding on the epidemiology of the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, US National Institutes of Health; Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, US Food and Drug Administration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e259-e266
JournalThe Lancet Microbe
Volume2
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Microbiology
  • Virology

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