Background:The distribution of population-level real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) cycle threshold (Ct) values as a proxy of viral load may be a useful indicator for predicting COVID-19 dynamics.

Objective:The aim of this study was to determine the relationship between the daily trend of average Ct values and COVID-19 dynamics, calculated as the daily number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19, daily number of new positive tests, daily number of COVID-19 deaths, and number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 by age. We further sought to determine the lag between these data series.

Methods:The samples included in this study were collected from March 21, 2021, to December 1, 2021. Daily Ct values of all patients who were referred to the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory of Iran University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, Iran, for RT-PCR tests were recorded. The daily number of positive tests and the number of hospitalized patients by age group were extracted from the COVID-19 patient information registration system in Tehran province, Iran. An autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) model was constructed for the time series of variables. Cross-correlation analysis was then performed to determine the best lag and correlations between the average daily Ct value and other COVID-19 dynamics–related variables. Finally, the best-selected lag of Ct identified through cross-correlation was incorporated as a covariate into the autoregressive integrated moving average with exogenous variables (ARIMAX) model to calculate the coefficients.

Results:Daily average Ct values showed a significant negative correlation (23-day time delay) with the daily number of newly hospitalized patients (P=.02), 30-day time delay with the daily number of new positive tests (P=.02), and daily number of COVID-19 deaths (P=.02). The daily average Ct value with a 30-day delay could impact the daily number of positive tests for COVID-19 (β=–16.87, P<.001) and the daily number of deaths from COVID-19 (β=–1.52, P=.03). There was a significant association between Ct lag (23 days) and the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations (β=–24.12, P=.005). Cross-correlation analysis showed significant time delays in the average Ct values and daily hospitalized patients between 18-59 years (23-day time delay, P=.02) and in patients over 60 years old (23-day time delay, P<.001). No statistically significant relation was detected in the number of daily hospitalized patients under 5 years old (9-day time delay, P=.27) and aged 5-17 years (13-day time delay, P=.39).

Conclusions:It is important for surveillance of COVID-19 to find a good indicator that can predict epidemic surges in the community. Our results suggest that the average daily Ct value with a 30-day delay can predict increases in the number of positive confirmed COVID-19 cases, which may be a useful indicator for the health system.


This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on https://publichealth.jmir.org, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

Cite as

Dehesh, P., Baradaran, H., Eshrati, B., Motevalian, S., Salehi, M. & Donyavi, T. 2022, 'Investigation of the Relationship between Population SARS-CoV-2 Cycle Threshold Values and the Trend of COVID-19 Infection: A longitudinal study', JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, 8(11), article no: e36424. https://doi.org/10.2196/36424

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Last updated: 25 November 2022
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