SARS-CoV-2 is notable for its extremely high level of viral replication in respiratory epithelial cells, relative to other cell types. This may partially explain the high transmissibility and rapid global dissemination observed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) cycle threshold (Ct) number has been widely used as a proxy for viral load based on the inverse relationship between Ct number and amplifiable genome copies present in a sample. We examined two PCR platforms (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2019-nCoV Real-time RT-PCR, Integrated DNA Technologies; and TaqPath COVID-19 multi-plex combination kit, ThermoFisher Scientific) for their performance characteristics and Ct distribution patterns based on results generated from 208,947 clinical samples obtained between October 2020 and September 2021. From 14,231 positive tests, Ct values ranged from 8 to 39 and displayed a pronounced bimodal distribution. The bimodal distribution persisted when stratified by gender, age, and time period of sample collection during which different viral variants circulated. This finding may be a result of heterogeneity in disease progression or host response to infection irrespective of age, gender, or viral variants. Quantification of respiratory mucosal viral load may provide additional insight into transmission and clinical indicators helpful for infection control.
ASJC Scopus subject areas