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Capture Sequencing Enables Sensitive Detection of Tick-Borne Agents in Human Blood

March 7, 2022


Assay sensitivity can be a limiting factor in the use of PCR as a tool for the detection of tick-borne pathogens in blood. We evaluated the performance of Tick-borne disease Capture Sequencing Assay (TBDCapSeq), a capture sequencing assay targeting tick-borne agents, to test 158 whole blood specimens obtained from the Lyme Disease Biobank. These included samples from 98 individuals with signs and symptoms of acute Lyme disease, 25 healthy individuals residing in Lyme disease endemic areas, and 35 samples collected from patients admitted to the Massachusetts General Hospital or referred to the infectious disease clinic. Compared to PCR, TBDCapSeq had better sensitivity and could identify infections with a wider range of tick-borne agents. TBDCapSeq identified a higher rate of samples positive for Borrelia burgdorferi (8 vs. 1 by PCR) and Babesia microti (26 vs. 15 by PCR). TBDCapSeq also identified previously unknown infections with Borrelia miyamotoiEhrlichia, and Rickettsia species. Overall, TBDCapSeq identified a pathogen in 43 samples vs. 23 using PCR, with four co-infections detected versus zero by PCR. We conclude that capture sequencing enables superior detection of tick-borne agents relative to PCR.

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