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Original article

Vol. 154 No. 4 (2024)

Exploring viral aetiology in upper respiratory tract infections: insights from metagenomic next-generation sequencing in Swiss outpatients before and during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic

  • Verena Kufner
  • Andrea C. Frey
  • Sara H. Burkhard
  • Stefan Schmutz
  • Gabriela Ziltener
  • Maryam Zaheri
  • Caroline V. Wiedmer
  • Andreas Plate
  • Alexandra Trkola
  • Michael Huber
  • Nicolas J. Mueller
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2024;154:3797


AIMS OF THE STUDY: Upper respiratory tract infections are among the most common reasons for primary care consultations. They are diagnosed predominantly based on clinical assessment. Here, we investigated the benefit of viral metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS) in an outpatient setting.

METHODS: This prospective cross-sectional study included immunocompetent patients with acute upper respiratory tract infections. General practitioners collected pharyngeal swabs and demographic and clinical data. Specimens were analysed using viral mNGS and conventional tests.

RESULTS: Two hundred seventy-seven patients were recruited by 21 general practitioners between 10/2019 and 12/2020, of which 91% had a suspected viral aetiology. For 138 patients (49.8%), mNGS identified one or more respiratory viruses. The mNGS showed a high overall agreement with conventional routine diagnostic tests. Rhinoviruses were the most frequently detected respiratory viruses (20.2% of patients). Viral mNGS reflected the influenza wave in early 2020 and the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic outbreak in Switzerland in March 2020. Notably, rhinoviruses continued to circulate despite non-pharmaceutical hygiene measures.

CONCLUSIONS: Viral mNGS allowed the initial diagnosis to be retrospectively re-evaluated. Assuming reduced turnaround times, mNGS has the potential to directly guide the treatment of upper respiratory tract infections. On an epidemiological level, our study highlights the utility of mNGS in respiratory infection surveillance, allowing early detection of epidemics and providing information crucial for prevention.


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