Epidemiological and molecular assessment of a rubella outbreak in North-Eastern Italy.
Rubella and congenital rubella syndrome continue to be important health problems worldwide. The detection of rubella RNA directly in clinical specimens is a critical factor in early laboratory diagnosis of recent or congenital infection, in addition to detection of rubella-specific IgM. In order to comply with recent WHO recommendations for establishing uniform genetic analysis protocols for rubella virus we have developed a new block based PCR assay (PCR-E317), which extends the sequence generated by the block based PCR-E592 currently in use, to cover the minimum acceptable 739 nucleotides (nt) window at the E1 gene. In addition, a real-time PCR assay has been developed to allow rapid detection of the virus in the laboratory. The assays were applied to a number of clinical specimens collected from patients including recent rubella incidences in the UK, Ethiopia and Turkey, two prenatal and two congenital rubella syndrome cases. Rubella RNA was detected in specimens from two patients that were collected too early for IgM detection, in two amniotic fluids for prenatal diagnosis and in the follow up specimens from the two infant with congenital rubella syndrome tested for viral secretion. At least four genotypes were identified among these patients. The results showed that molecular assays are important tools in the early diagnosis of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome, in the provision of molecular epidemiological information for tracking transmission pathways and in adding to the knowledge of rubella strain distribution worldwide.