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Comparison of shell viral culture and serology for the diagnosis of human cytomegalovirus infection in neonates and immunocompromised subjects


The present retrospective study compares the laboratory diagnosis of cytomegalic inclusion disease (CID) by the use of “shell vial culture” [i.e., immunoperoxidase staining of human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) early antigen in human fibroblasts 24 h postinoculation] to the results of serology (i.e. immunoglobulins IgG, IgM, and IgA HCMV antibody testing) in 21 infants with congenital or postnatally acquired HCMV infection, 5 patients with lymphoproliferative disorders, 35 human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-seropositive patients who met the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) criteria for stages IVA and IVB of HIV infection, and 115 patients suffering from the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, AIDS (stages IVC-IVE according to CDC criteria). HCMV infection was diagnosed by means of the shell vial culture inoculated with patient samples (e.g., urine, bronchoalveolar lavage, induced sputum, etc.) and serology in 163 (92.6%) and 65 (36.9%) patients, respectively. Viral shedding was detected by shell vial culture in 100% of the neonates, 80% of the patients suffering from lymphoproliferative disorders, 100% of the AIDS related complex (ARC) and 89.6% of the AIDS patients. In contrast, serologic testing for HCMV-specific antibodies was positive in only 28.6%, 42.9%, and 34.8% of the neonates, ARC, and AIDS patients, respectively. In lymphoma patients, serologic testing gave identical results (80%) to the shell vial culture technique. With the use of the shell vial procedure, active HCMV infection in immunocompromised subjects and neonates can be recognized more reliably than by serologic testing. Nevertheless, in a low percentage of patients (7.4%), virus isolation by the shell vial culture may fail to detect HCMV infection.

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AIDS related complex


acquired immunodeficiency syndrome


bronchoalveolar lavage


Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, USA


cytomegalic inclusion disease


enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay


human cytomegalovirus


human immunodeficiency virus

IgG, IgM, IgA:

immunoglobulins G, M, and A


standard deviation


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Weber, B., Hamann, A., Ritt, B. et al. Comparison of shell viral culture and serology for the diagnosis of human cytomegalovirus infection in neonates and immunocompromised subjects. Clin Investig 70, 503–507 (1992).

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Key words

  • Human cytomegalovirus
  • Neonates
  • Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and AIDS related complex patients