Objective: Viral nucleic acid detection by real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) is the current standard method for diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, due to low viral load in some COVID-19 patients, false negative results from this method have been repeatedly reported.
Method: In this study, we compared the sensitivity and specificity of digital PCR (dPCR) in contrived samples and clinical samples with qPCR assay through a series of vigorous tests.
Results: The results showed that dPCR was more sensitive than qPCR especially for samples with low viral load (≤3 copies). In addition, dPCR had similar specificity as qPCR and could effectively distinguish other human coronaviruses and influenza virus from SARS-CoV-2. More importantly, dPCR was more sensitive than qPCR in detecting the virus in the “negative” samples from recurrent COVID-19 patients.
Conclusions: In summary, dPCR could serve as a powerful complement to the current qPCR method for SARS-CoV-2 detection, especially for the samples with extremely low viral load, such as recurrent COVID-19 patients.