Cycle Threshold Values as Indication of Increasing SARS-CoV-2 New Variants, England, 2020-2022.
Harrison RE., Hamada A., Haswell N., Groves A., Vihta K-D., Cella K., Garner S., Walker AS., Seale AC.
Early detection of increased infections or new variants of SARS-CoV-2 is critical for public health response. To determine whether cycle threshold (Ct) data from PCR tests for SARS-CoV-2 could serve as an early indicator of epidemic growth, we analyzed daily mean Ct values in England, UK, by gene target and used iterative sequential regression to detect break points in mean Ct values (and positive test counts). To monitor the epidemic in England, we continued those analyses in real time. During September 2020-January 2022, a total of 7,611,153 positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR test results with Ct data were reported. Spike (S) gene target (S+/S-)-specific mean Ct values decreased 6-29 days before positive test counts increased, and S-gene Ct values provided early indication of increasing new variants (Delta and Omicron). Our approach was beneficial in the context of the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and can be used to support future infectious disease monitoring.