- An Illinois university using a ‘pool’ COVID-19 test allows it to more effectively detect cases in a way cheaper than standard testing, a new study finds
- Pooled testing is when samples from multiple people are mixed and tested together and only samples from the pool containing the virus are tested again.
- The researchers estimated the cost of the pooled test to be 43 cents per test, which is cheaper than running the tests individually.
- The research team believes they detected more than 80% of cases using pooled testing
- If pool testing had not been used, the researchers believe that most students would not have been tested themselves.
- Pooled testing allows testing to be quicker and use limited resources more efficiently
A new study has found that so-called ‘pool testing’ of samples for COVID-19 could be faster, cheaper and more accurate than evaluating them individually.
Researchers from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbon, Illinois, evaluated the effectiveness of pool testing among the school’s residential population.
Pool testing is when eight to ten samples of saliva from multiple people are combined to test for COVID-19 as a whole.
If the virus is not detected in the pooled sample, each person is considered negative.
If the sample tests positive, individual samples from each member are tested individually to find out which ones are infected.
The team found that the pool test exceeded the general standard for accuracy and cost only 43 cents per test administered – cheaper than running the ‘gold standard’ PCR test all at once.
A new study finds that putting together COVID-19 test samples instead of testing them individually can be more efficient, cheaper and just as effective. Pictured: A Northridge, Calif., student receives a COVID-19 test on August 11
Pooled testing is when samples from multiple people are tested together, such as 10 at a time. If the virus is not detected in the pooled sample (blue), each person is considered negative. If the sample tests positive (red), individual samples from each member are tested individually
Daniel Sharda, the study’s lead author and chair of biological sciences at Olivet, said in a statement: “Our study is an important step forward in achieving rapid trial results on a large scale while preserving supply and reducing costs. it shows.”
The researchers, who published their findings in the journal microbiology spectrum On Wednesday, students living on campus during the Spring 2021 semester were classified into two groups.
Students who regularly participated in on-campus group activities were required to submit two saliva samples for testing every week, while the other group submitted one sample per week.
A total of 43,884 samples were collected during the study period.
Pool testing was done on samples, which have the ability to detect the virus at very low load levels, and an estimated 83 per cent of positive cases were detected through this measure.
It is almost as accurate as nasal swabs that are tested individually, taking about two or three days to return results.
Of the cases detected through pool testing, 36.2 per cent were asymptomatic and 48.3 per cent experienced mild symptoms.
The researchers also estimated that more than 80 percent of students would not have had regular tests of their own free will.
With so many asymptomatic cases and limited testing, researchers believe that without a comprehensive testing strategy, the school would have faced a severe COVID outbreak.
Testing students in this way made the test cheaper and faster because scientists could test ten instead of the time it would take to run the test on a single sample.
While the test is widely available, a college may still have some trouble getting enough tests to use on thousands of students.
Access to testing was also an issue at the start of the pandemic, as there was nowhere near enough supply to meet the growing demand for COVID tests, leading to many undetected cases.
Pooling can help reduce testing loopholes and make more efficient use of limited resources.
“Future pandemics should use pooled strategies from the outset, when tests are otherwise limited,” Sharda said.
Pooling tests are a strategy used by more schools across the country as officials hope children will be kept safe in school.
Dr Manoj Gandhi, senior medical director of genetic testing solutions at Thermo Fisher Scientific, told DailyMail.com that pool testing is effective, although accuracy can be sporadic.
“The accuracy of pooling tests depends on the type of pooling and the number of samples pooled because of the potential for dilution effect,” said Dr Gandhi.
‘For example, if samples of individuals are pooled, one needs to consider what is the maximum allowable pooling number. For the TaqPath Pooling Kit, up to 5 samples can be pooled without loss of accuracy.
‘In contrast, swab/pod pooling is performed with multiple swabs in a single tube, there is no loss of sensitivity and the pooling is equally accurate.’
Gandhi recommended the use of this testing method for schools as it is ‘efficient and inexpensive’.
Sharda believes that implementing these strategies in schools and other areas where people gather – especially as resources may be limited – are key to keeping people together in times of crisis.
‘We also recognized that our campus is an integral part of our local community, so our cases will certainly spread beyond campus and possibly reach more vulnerable individuals. Sharda said, we felt an obligation to do better for our local community.
‘Our pooled saliva approach puts routine COVID-19 testing within reach of smaller organizations and countries where resources are limited.’