Health

Pooled Testing May Help in Tracing New Infections

Image: Arizona Republic

Tracing for new cases of coronavirus is among the fundamental measures needed to control the pandemic. According to health experts, keeping a check of any new people who might have caught the virus can avoid further transmission. However, most of the countries are finding it extremely difficult to test a big number of people, especially in densely populated regions. This situation may be better by introducing pooled testing for coronavirus cases.

For instance, the US has several issues in tracing new infections even though many states have reportedly increased testing on a massive scale. Some of the primary issues with testing include high prices of the process as well as time consumption in it. Many people are simply unable to get tested and receive their reports on time because of the lengthy procedure.

Therefore, health experts are now looking for ways to conduct testing in a short span of time and make it more accessible to the vast majority. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the top health officials in the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci has suggested that pool testing may be the solution to all the concerns associated with coronavirus tracing.

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Pooled testing for coronavirus or any pathogens allows health care workers to conduct testing at a much larger level and quicker pace. Usually, a group of people or pool is tested by health professionals using one test only. This means that more people can get tested at a time that shortens the process and reduces testing costs.

One test for all instead of individual testing is done by taking samples from all members of a group and mixing it for testing. If all group members are negative, the test comes back clear. Any person who has caught an infection means that the test is positive.

In case one person tests positive for the pathogen, all the rest of the members in the group a re-tested for the virus to check whether they have contracted the virus as well. This helps in the identification of the person who has been infected and separates him or her from the rest of the group.

However, the effectiveness of testing can vary in accordance with the circumstances. With a widespread pandemic, the savings from pooled testing can be lower than expected. A higher number of cases means that there are likely to be bigger pools of people.

Whenever this happens, usually many pools come back positive and re-testing of the group members is required. This lowers the cost-effectiveness of the whole process of pooled testing. So, the question is whether pooled testing can help the US in tracing new coronavirus infections?

Health experts estimate that pooled testing is more effective when the prevalence of infection is less than fifteen percent. With coronavirus, the incidence of the infection is much higher. Therefore, it may not be that effective.

However, given that only ten percent of the US population has been tested even though many states have increased tracing teams, pooled testing may be the answer to speed the process. It is extremely difficult to produce the number of tests needed to test the entire US population.

Pooled testing can test more people at a time, save time, and put less pressure on labs and medical facilities across the country. This is why the FDA has recently released a guide on pooled testing for labs, which suggests that the US may turn to pooled testing for coronavirus at a mass level very soon.

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Abeera I. Kazmi

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