What is Pooled Testing that has been recommended by ICMR to speed up COVID-19 Test Results? – All You Need To Know

India to Start Pooled Testing for COVID-19: ICMR recently issued an advisory recommending use of Pooled Testing for COVID-19 tests. Let’s decode what is pooled testing and how it can help India ramp up testing for Coronavirus infection to contain its spread. Get Complete Details Here.

Apr 15, 2020 12:13 IST
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India to Start Pooled Testing for COVID-19: ICMR recently issued an advisory recommending the use of 'pooled testing' for COVID-19 tests. Highlighting the importance of ramping up testing for Coronavirus infection in the country, the 13th April advisory issued by ICMR has recommended the use of pooled testing for the same. Following the advisory, Uttar Pradesh Government has got an approval from ICMR for to start "pool testing" becoming the first in the country to attempt this method which aims at expediting the testing process for Covid-19. This new testing method is being seen as the right approach for India to widen its reach of testing while also speeding up the test results for large population.

But before we dive into other details, it is important to understand what pooled testing actually is and how it can help India ramp up testing for Coronavirus infection to contain its spread. So, let’s find out.

What testing technology is India using currently for COVID-19?

Currently, India is conducting RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology based tests for detecting COVID -19. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is RNA-based virus, therefore, it needs to be converted into DNA first. Thereafter, the lab looks for “primers”--short synthesised fragments of nucleic acid--to detect the presence of the virus.

Apart from this, ICMR has also approved anti-body tests for COVID-19, which is based on looking for presence of Immunoglobulins (IgG, IgM) that are produced by the body to fight the virus. However, anti-body tests are not that widely used in India.

What is Pooled Testing?

According to the laboratory definition, for pooled testing, samples of multiple individuals are put together in a tube and screened through the PCR test. Simply put, pooled testing refers to combining multiple samples that are to be tested in a single test serum and then testing that to look for contagion or virus. If the entire pool of samples that were tested turns out negative, it means that virus is not present in all the people who submitted their samples in this pool. In case the pool is found to be COVID-19 positive, individual samples of each person who participated in pooled testing will be tested for coronavirus.

How many samples can be pooled togather?

According to an Economic Times report, recently, researchers from Israel have pooled in samples from 64 people to conduct tests and found them to be negative, bringing down testing costs and speed up test results. Currently, ICMR has only recommended pool of only five test samples to avoid dilution of results leading to false negatives.

Why Pooled Testing?

With large population and scarce test kits available currently across the globe, pooled testing is being looked as the preferred method by several countries across the world to identify the presence of virus in large group of people. Pooled testing can help in substantial cost saving and also increase the number of tests per capita and help in segregating people and localities that are not impacted by the virus.

Where will Pooled Testing be done in India?

Pooled Testing has been recommended by ICMR to be done only in ‘cold spots’ or areas with low prevalence of COVID-19. According to the ICMR advisory, pool testing is to be done only in areas where under 2% positive cases have been reported and is not recommended in areas where positive rates are more than 5%, ICMR said.

Has this been done before?

Currently, Germany and many other European countries have used pooled testing as a viable solution to overcome the shortage of COVID-19 test kits. This has also helped such countries to quickly identify hotspots and restrict the virus to such areas while opening lockdown restrictions in others.

Prior to Coronavirus pandemic, pool testing has been used by countries across the world during large outbreaks and invisible community transmission.

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