The authors report on the development and application of a rapid TaqMan assay for the detection of West Nile (WN) virus in a variety of human clinical specimens and field-collected specimens. Oligonucleotide primers and FAM- and TAMRA-labeled WN virus-specific probes were designed by using the nucleotide sequence of the New York 1999 WN virus isolate. The TaqMan assay was compared to a traditional reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR assay and to virus isolation in Vero cells with a large number ( approximately 500) of specimens obtained from humans (serum, cerebrospinal fluid, and brain tissue), field-collected mosquitoes, and avian tissue samples. The TaqMan assay was specific for WN virus and demonstrated a greater sensitivity than the traditional RT- PCR method and correctly identified WN virus in 100% of the culture- positive mosquito pools and 98% of the culture-positive avian tissue samples. The assay should be of utility in the diagnostic laboratory to complement existing human diagnostic testing and as a tool to conduct WN virus surveillance in the United States.
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