A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay was used to detect and differentiate picornaviruses (PVs), using primers homologous to the 5′ non-coding and VP2 regions of the PV genome. The PCR resulted in a 530 bp PCR product for human rhinoviruses (HRVs) and a 650 bp product for polioviruses, coxsackieviruses (CV) or echoviruses. The PCR assay could detect as little as 1 p.f.u. of virus in either cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) or stool, using ethidium bromide-stained gels. Standard strains of poliovirus, CV, echovirus and HRV were detected, with the exception of echovirus type 22. In contrast, heterologous viruses, such as herpes simplex virus, human cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, influenza virus and rotavirus, as well as human and monkey cell DNA, were not amplified. In nasal swabs taken from patients with respiratory infections, the PCR detected 27 of 28 HRV isolation-positive specimens. All specimens from which viruses other than HRVs were isolated were negative by PCR. The PCR definitively identified poliovirus and CVs from the CSF or stool of patients with aseptic meningitis, as well as CV in the pericardial fluid of a patient who had suffered a myocardial infarction. Specimens taken from patients with similar pathologies, and from which heterologous viruses were isolated, were uniformly negative by PCR.


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