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Coronavirus Group Screening Test Might Save Time and Lives

With the efforts to ease the lockdown in the United States and the shortage of testing capacity for COVID-19, the experts are concerned that the number of coronavirus cases will increase rapidly. Although there are thousands of coronavirus tests done every day, the demand for testing is far greater in number.

Considering the shortage of supplies to increase the testing capacity, some researchers are considering another testing strategy which is coronavirus group testing. According to this strategy, a single lab diagnostic test will be done by using multiple samples from different people. Researchers believe that this method will increase the testing capacity and more people with be tested for the virus in a shorter time.

Coronavirus group testing will enable the authorities to rapidly record the data of coronavirus infected individuals and those who are not the carriers of the pathogen.

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Group testing is not a new method, it has been previously used for mass testing of numerous people from the military for Syphilis during the second world war when thousands of tests were done. It has also been used for the diagnosis of several other diseases including HIV, flu virus, malaria infection, and chlamydia. Hence, this strategy has been successful in the past, and researchers from the United States, Germany, and Israel are looking forward to implementing it in the current scenario.

Sandra Ciesek who is the director of the Goethe University Frankfurt’s Institute of Medical Virology in Germany said that coronavirus testing and social distancing is the only way to stop the spread of the coronavirus until a vaccine is developed against it.

Ciesek was one of the first people to inform that asymptomatic people are potential carriers of the virus and since mid-February, she has been trying to develop a coronavirus group testing technique so that people without any symptoms carrying the virus can be quickly identified.

Tomer Hertz who is the computational immunologist from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel is also working on a pooled testing strategy. His mission is to increase the testing capacity within the same resources.

However, there is a limitation to this strategy that the capability to limit the use of resources by coronavirus group testing will decrease with the increased prevalence of the virus among people.

The Nebraska Public Health Laboratory is using the group testing strategy for coronavirus testing. The director of the laboratory, Peter Iwen faced a shortage of testing ability due to limited access to chemicals required for testing. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of pool testing by the laboratory of not more than five samples.

The assistant director of the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Health’s Communicable Disease Division, Allen Bateman shared his concern about group testing saying that using large pools by dilution of every sample can decrease the accuracy of the test giving false-negative results.

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Another drawback of this strategy for this particular disease is the prevalence of the coronavirus. Since the virus is far spread, most of the samples in the group appear positive rendering the negative test positive as well which will make the results unclear. Ultimately, the samples will have to be individually tested which defeats the purpose of this method.

Currently, the undetected positive cases in the US are a complication in implementing this strategy. The coronavirus pandemic is a huge outbreak due to which this coronavirus testing method might not prove helpful to minimize to use of resources. However, the country is in dire need of increased testing capacity and an effective strategy to control the outbreak.

Areeba Hussain

The author is a fulltime medical and healthcare writer. She graduated in Medical Microbiology and Immunology with distinction. Her areas of prime interest are medicine, medical technology, disease awareness, and research analysis. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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