INTRODUCTION AND AIMS: Improved sensitivity and efficiency of detection and quantification of carriage of Neisseria meningitidis (Nm) in young people is important for evaluation of the impact of vaccines upon transmission and associated population-wide effects. Saliva collection is quick, non-invasive and facilitates frequent sampling, but has been reported to yield low sensitivity by culture. We re-evaluated this approach in a follow-up cross sectional study using direct and culture-amplified PCR.
MATERIAL/METHODS: In April 2016 we collected paired oropharyngeal swabs (OPS) and saliva samples from 1005 healthy students in Portugal into STGG broth and stored them at -80°C until DNA extraction and batched qPCR analysis. Samples were also cultured on GC agar plates for 72h and PCR done on DNA extracts from overall growth. Nm isolates were also sought from a selection of 50 samples. qPCR amplification targets were superoxide dismutase sodC and capsular locus/genogroup-specific genes (B, C, W, X and Y) and, for cultured isolates only, porA. Cycle threshold values of ≤36 were considered positive.
RESULTS: 556 tests (460 samples, 363 subjects, 36.1%) were positive for Nm (sodC) and 65 (45, 36, 3.6%) for MenB. More salivas were positive by direct sodC qPCR (211, 21.0%) than OPS (126, 12.5%) but fewer were positive by culture-amplified qPCR (94 vs. 125). For both sample types, many that were negative on direct qPCR came positive on culture-amplification and Nm was consistently isolated from salivas in which culture amplified the PCR signal. Using both methods on both samples yielded 36.1% Nm and 5.5% encapsulated Nm carriage rates while direct qPCR on OPS alone detected 12.5% and 2.2%.
CONCLUSIONS: Detectable MenB carriage rates (2.9%) were lower than 4 years earlier (6.8%) in this population (p = 0.0003). Viable meningococci were often present in saliva. Although evidence of encapsulated Nm was less frequent in saliva than OPS, collection is more acceptable to subjects allowing more frequent sampling. Use of culture-amplification increases detection sensitivity in both sample types, especially when combined with direct PCR. Combining these samples and/or methodologies could greatly enhance the power of carriage studies to detect the impact of vaccines upon carriage and transmission.