False-positive PCR results linked to administration of seasonal influenza vaccine

False-positive PCR results usually occur as a consequence of specimen-to-specimen or amplicon-to-specimen contamination within the laboratory. Evidence of contamination at time of specimen collection linked to influenza vaccine administration in the same location as influenza sampling is described. Clinical, circumstantial and laboratory evidence was gathered for each of five cases of influenza-like illness (ILI) with unusual patterns of PCR reactivity for seasonal H1N1, H3N2, H1N1 (2009) and influenza B viruses. Two 2010 trivalent influenza vaccines and environmental swabs of a hospital influenza vaccination room were also tested for influenza RNA. Sequencing of influenza A matrix (M) gene amplicons from the five cases and vaccines was undertaken. Four 2009 general practitioner (GP) specimens were seasonal H1N1, H3N2 and influenza B PCR positive. One 2010 GP specimen was H1N1 (2009), H3N2 and influenza B positive. PCR of 2010 trivalent vaccines showed high loads of detectable influenza A and B RNA. Sequencing of the five specimens and vaccines showed greatest homology with the M gene sequence of Influenza A/Puerto Rico/8/1934 H1N1 virus (used in generation of influenza vaccine strains). Environmental swabs had detectable influenza A and B RNA. RNA detection studies demonstrated vaccine RNA still detectable for at least 66 days. Administration of influenza vaccines and clinical sampling in the same room resulted in the contamination with vaccine strains of surveillance swabs collected from patients with ILI. Vaccine contamination should therefore be considered, particularly where multiple influenza virus RNA PCR positive signals (e.g. H1N1, H3N2 and influenza B) are detected in the same specimen.

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