Estimating numbers of infectious units from serial dilution assays
The paper concerns the design and analysis of serial dilution assays to estimate the infectivity of a sample of tissue when it is assumed that the sample contains a finite number of indivisible infectious units such that a subsample will be infectious if it contains one or more of these units. The aim of the study is to estimate the number of infectious units in the original sample. The standard approach to the analysis of data from such a study is based on the assumption of independence of aliquots both at the same dilution level and at different dilution levels, so that the numbers of infectious units in the aliquots follow independent Poisson distributions. An alternative approach is based on calculation of the expected value of the total number of samples tested that are not infectious. We derive the likelihood for the data on the basis of the discrete number of infectious units, enabling calculation of the maximum likelihood estimate and likelihood-based confidence intervals. We use the exact probabilities that are obtained to compare the maximum likelihood estimate with those given by the other methods in terms of bias and standard error and to compare the coverage of the confidence intervals. We show that the methods have very similar properties and conclude that for practical use the method that is based on the Poisson assumption is to be recommended, since it can be implemented by using standard statistical software. Finally we consider the design of serial dilution assays, concluding that it is important that neither the dilution factor nor the number of samples that remain untested should be too large.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: January 1, 2006