In present times of distress caused by the uncontrollable outbreak of corona virus, scientists have come up with the method of “pool testing” to make our fight stronger. In his Ted talk address, dating back 5 years, titled “ The next outbreak? We are not ready”, Bill Gates did something outlandish, he predicted the corona virus pandemic that would disrupt the world. He said, “Today the greatest risk of global catastrophe does not look like this (atomic bomb), but looks like this(a virus). If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it is going to be a virus than a missile”. The video has resurfaced today given the recent events of the pandemic of COVID-19 which happens to be just as the Microsoft founder predicted.
The worldwide number of corona virus cases has crossed a million resulting in thousands of deaths. This makes it extremely essential to speed up the efforts to tackle this emergency. Sars-CoV2 belongs to the family of corona viruses and causes respiratory infections. This is a highly contagious group of viruses especially because of its high transmission rate and also because of the way it spreads—air droplets.
What is Pool Testing?
Pool testing refers to testing the multiple samples of the mucous samples from nose and throat collected from individuals in a household or local cluster together and determining the results in abundance and time-saving manner.
Pool testing was developed by a team of scientist at German Red Cross Blood Donor Service and institute for medical virology in Germany in order to make the rapid screening of people for Corona virus possible in their country, where the initial test figures were low. As many as 32 samples to 64 samples can be tested together with around 10% chances of error but it has been deemed to be an extensively efficient method of procedure.
Scientists are working hard to increase the number of samples that can be tested together. This method has been previously utilized in the detection of the early stages of HIV infection when the PCR prices were high.
Though it is especially important to test in order to detect and diagnose the infected population, in countries such as India, with a population of 1 and half billion, it is economically exhausting as well as very to result in the shortage of the reagents and resources required to conduct the operation at such an enormous scale.
Pool testing helps us to make the process simpler and faster especially in the time where more and more number of screening and detection of the disease is expected in order to decide the further course of action.
As many as 32 samples can be tested together in a single test tube and this help to know if there is any positive case in the community and then we can proceed with individual testing using the PCR method. But the major advantage is that if a particular pool sample is tested negative then it indicates no spread of infection in the given community and hence saves the materials that would have been wasted.
Why aren’t Countries adopting Pool Testing?
Even if it is a very beneficial method, it is an incredibly labour exhaustive procedure and also it requires extreme precautions with handling such number of samples as any mishandling can lead to the leak of active viral particles and can put the life of health workers handling the samples at risk.
How Important is Testing for Coronavirus?
The WHO director-general had simple advice to countries on how to deal with coronavirus: ‘test, test, and test’. With the vaccine for COVID-19 nowhere close insight, even though multiple countries are trying day and night to come up with the solution for the historical pandemic, it becomes particularly important to deal with the current scenario using other methods of treatment.
This includes the usage of the drugs such as hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin in the patients as well as in high-risk population. But before that, it is extremely important to identify the infected individuals and isolate them so that they can be prevented from social interactions which are the major cause of such an epic outbreak and increased length and width of the chain.
South Korea is leading the world in dealing with the pandemic and with their successful attempt to flattening the curve of the number of cases against time. Not only does this help in controlling the infection but also provides reassurance to the nervous population.
India looks forward to Pool Testing
India has reached the community spread stage of the Corona virus and the numbers of infected individuals have reached around 6000 but the country has been repeatedly criticized for far less frequency of testing than needed for such huge population. India aims to scale up the testing from 15000 to 100000 samples daily. Pool testing will prove extremely beneficial in dealing with the outbreak at the economic as well as healthcare facilities provision front.
Indian Council of Medical Research has reported that they are considering the new method of pool testing for increasing the number of tests conducted in India however any news of confirmation of utilisation of this method has not yet been put out.
India has placed an order for 10 lakh antibody testing kits and 7 lakh RNA extraction kits.
Ramanand Lakshmi Narayan coma author and CDDEP Director and the senior fellow said, “ Testing samples from multiple patients with a single PCR test also known as pool sampling has been used previously in the early stages of the HIV epidemic when PCR cost was high. We found the use of a pool testing statutory could reduce the time, cost and resources required to identify infected people in a population and estimating the infection rate. This would allow us to identify community clusters for targeted public health interventions”.
India is making efforts starting from the lock down to boosting the better healthcare infrastructure. It is only important from here on that we put our best foot forward.