What is Rapid Testing and could it be a key Component to Unlocking Society?
With the gloom of second-wave lockdowns now in place all over Europe, there is a beacon of hope in the news of improvements to the availability of Covid-19 testing. While PCR tests continue to offer the gold standard in testing, the new rapid tests create an exciting opportunity to test en masse in a quick and cost-effective way, as Liverpool is now experiencing.
So, what is rapid testing exactly?
We spoke to Sander Julian Brus, MSc, co-founder and CEO of PrevViral, a company which was set up due to extreme mask shortages in the Netherlands. Their aim is to get the best preventative tools for Covid-19 to Europe and having highlighted the huge potential of rapid testing, started PrevViral.
“Traditional testing for Covid-19 detects viral genetic material called RNA by using a technique called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This method is the gold standard to test if a person has Covid-19 at a given moment. Rapid testing works differently since it picks up specific proteins — known as antigen — on the surface of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus. This method can identify if someone is contagious and therefore able to spread the virus. These antigen rapid tests are easy-to-use, relatively cheap, have quick turnaround times — usually around 15 minutes — and do not require laboratory equipment. Ideally, rapid antigen tests could be used for widespread (pre)screening for Covid-19 infectivity.
It is fundamentally important to consider what we actually want to measure in order to conclude which methods of Covid-19 testing is most appropriate. Do we want to know whether someone is infectious or do we even want to detect traces of viral RNA? Because of this, it is unreasonable to directly compare rapid antigen tests with PCR testing.
Typically, rapid tests have a lower sensitivity rate than PCR tests, meaning the tests will give a positive result to fewer people than the PCR test would. However, rapid tests specificity rate is extremely high, meaning they will give very few to no false positives, regularly being 97–100% accurate. This combination means that rapid tests will identify those who are contagious and not identify those who may have previously had Covid-19 but are no longer contagious. Rapid tests will detect the people with the higher viral loads, meaning the people that are (most) contagious and likely to spread the virus. If we look at the post infectious period, the period where the viral load of someone would gradually decline, the PCR test would (falsely) turn positive for some indefinite time, weeks, possibly even months. This and much more is described by Harvard professor Micheal Mina, published in the NEJM.”
The potential for rapid testing
Rapid testing could have huge impacts across the world. Sander gave us his opinion on what the potential impact could be if rapid testing was deployed effectively.
“I believe that rapid testing could have a huge positive impact on the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only will it enable countries which don’t have the labs required to do PCR testing the ability to test their population for Covid-19, rapid testing will also help businesses reopen safely. A lot of businesses currently feel let down and are struggling as a result of ever-changing restrictions and threat of lockdown.
Rapid testing is a solution for businesses in all industries which could allow us to get back to a more normal way of life, while also keeping the reproduction factor of the disease low.
For this to be effective it is key to self-isolate directly after a positive test result, therefore preventing further outbreaks.”
China is an example of how effective rapid testing can lower risk and reduce the need for additional measures. Recently when there was an outbreak of 12 cases in the Chinese city of Qingdao, the whole population of 9 million people was tested in 5 days. China has a strategy of mass rapid testing even when outbreaks appear to be small and to date this has been an effective strategy for keeping the virus controlled.
Slovakia has also used mass rapid testing as a way to reduce the prevalence of Covid-19, setting up a national testing scheme in an attempt to test their entire population and curb the spread of Covid-19. They plan on testing their entire population between the ages of 10 and 65, with anyone who doesn’t participate in the testing being required to self-isolate for 10 days instead. This will enable them to identify almost everyone with the virus, even those who are asymptomatic, with the hope that it will massively reduce the R rate and the prevalence of the virus.
Rapid tests can identify those who are currently contagious, while not identifying those who may have small traces of the virus in their system, but are no longer contagious. This means events such as large-scale festivals and theatre could take place with rapid testing to identify those who are contagious, therefore reducing the number of restrictions needed. A trial event for 1,000 people is set to take place in Barcelona where each attendee has to take a 15-minute rapid Covid-19 test before entering. As long as the test is negative, they’ll be able to enter the event where they won’t be required to socially distance; although santising before entering and wearing a mask will be required.
Rapid testing and tested.me
At tested.me we believe that rapid testing has huge potential to unlock society and enable businesses to return to their premises safely and responsibly. They will help mitigate risk in many situations, from schools and workplaces to live events. This coupled with technology such as tested.me which provides a secure digital home for results so they can easily be shared when needed has potential to make a huge impact on the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you want to find out more about tested.me solutions and how you could personalise your solution to include rapid testing for your employees, simply visit http://tested.me or get in contact with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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