Prevalence and risk factors of human polyomavirus infections in non-malignant tonsils and gargles: The SPLIT study

SPLIT study group

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The prevalence of 13 polyomaviruses (PyVs) in the tonsil brushings and gargles of immunocompetent children and adults was assessed. Patients undergoing tonsillectomy for benign indications were recruited in 19 centres in France. After resection, the entire outer surface of the right and left halves of the tonsils was brushed extensively. Gargles were also collected prior to surgery in selected adults. A species-specific multiplex assay was used to detect the DNA of 13 PyVs. In tonsil brushings (n=689), human PyV 6 (HPyV6) and Merkel cell PyV (MCPyV) were the most prevalent (≈15 %), followed by trichodysplasia spinulosa-associated PyV (TSPyV), BKPyV, Washington University PyV (WUPyV) and human PyV 9 (HPyV9) (1 to 5 %), and human PyV 7 (HPyV7), John Cunningham PyV (JCPyV) and Simian virus 40 (SV40) (<1 %), while no Karolinska Institute PyV (KIPyV), Malawi PyV (MWPyV), human PyV 12 (HPyV12) or Lyon IARC PyV (LIPyV) were detected. The prevalence of TSPyV and BKPyV was significantly higher in children versus adults, whereas for HPyV6 the opposite was found. HPyV6 and WUPyV were significantly more prevalent in men versus women. In gargles (n=139), MCPyV was the most prevalent (≈40 %), followed by HPyV6, HPyV9 and LIPyV (2 to 4 %), and then BKPyV (≈1 %), while other PyVs were not detected. MCPyV and LIPyV were significantly more prevalent in gargles compared to tonsil brushings, in contrast to HPyV6. We described differing patterns of individual PyV infections in tonsils and gargles in a large age-stratified population. Comparison of the spectrum of PyVs in paired tonsil samples and gargles adds to the current knowledge on PyV epidemiology, contributing towards a better understanding of PyV acquisition and transmission and its potential role in head and neck diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number001156
Pages (from-to)1686-1698
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of General Virology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2018


  • Epidemiology
  • Gargle
  • Oral cavity
  • Oropharynx
  • Polyomaviruses
  • Tonsil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology


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