Friday 30 October 2020

Utrecht teaching hospital starts trials of fast coronavirus tests to check accuracy

Coronavirus tests in the lab. Photo: video still UMC

Utrecht’s UMC teaching hospital has started trials of fast coronavirus tests, in the hope of establishing how effective they are.

The trials are taking place at the city’s drop-in test centre. People who take the fast test are also given a more traditional test so the results can be compared. Trials of different fast testing kits will start up in other places, including Rotterdam, next week.

The Netherlands currently uses PCR tests to establish if people are infected with coronavirus. They show the genetic make-up of the virus, if present, but processing the swabs in a lab takes around five hours from start to finish.

‘The PCR test is very sensitive and the fast test is less so, so you will need to have more of the virus in your system for it to show up,’ microbiologist Rob Schuurman said.

If the fast test proves accurate, officials hope to be able to use it on a wider scale from November. It will not replace the PCR test, but can be used to make a quick differentiation between people who definitely have the virus and those who still need a PCR test.

The Utrecht trial centres on a test for antibodies which takes 15 to 20 minutes for a result. ‘We know it is less sensitive but we want to establish which infections it picks up, and which it does not,’ Schuurman said.

Once the trials have all been completed, the results will be shared and assessed to decide what role the fast tests should have in Dutch coronavirus strategy.

The Dutch health board association said earlier this week that some 10,000 people a day are unable to make a test appointment because of the lack of capacity. The soonest test one applicant in Amsterdam was offered on Friday, for instance, was a spot in Den Helder on Sunday.

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