Evaluation of pooled sample analysis strategy in expediting case detection in areas with emerging outbreaks of COVID-19: A pilot study

Anirudh K. Singh, Ram Kumar Nema, Ankur Joshi, Prem Shankar, Shashwati Nema, Arun Raghuwanshi, Chitra Patankar, Bijina J. Mathew, Arti Shrivas, Ritu Pandey, Ranu Tripathi, Debasis Biswas, Sarman Singh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Timely diagnosis of COVID-19 infected individuals and their prompt isolation are essential for controlling the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Though quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR (qRT-PCR) is the method of choice for COVID-19 diagnostics, the resource-intensive and time-consuming nature of the technique impairs its wide applicability in resource-constrained settings and calls for novel strategies to meet the ever-growing demand for more testing. In this context, a pooled sample testing strategy was evaluated in the setting of emerging disease outbreak in 3 central Indian districts to assess if the cost of the test and turn-around time could be reduced without compromising its diagnostic characteristics and thus lead to early containment of the outbreak. From 545 nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal samples received from the three emerging districts, a total of 109 pools were created with 5 consecutive samples in each pool. The diagnostic performance of qRT-PCR on pooled sample was compared with that of individual samples in a blinded manner. While pooling reduced the cost of diagnosis by 68% and the laboratory processing time by 66%, 5 of the 109 pools showed discordant results when compared with induvial samples. Four pools which tested negative contained 1 positive sample and 1 pool which was positive did not show any positive sample on deconvolution. Presence of a single infected sample with Ct value of 34 or higher, in a pool of 5, was likely to be missed in pooled sample analysis. At the reported point prevalence of 4.8% in this study, the negative predictive value of qRT-PCR on pooled samples was around 96% suggesting that the adoption of this strategy as an effective screening tool for COVID-19 needs to be carefully evaluated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0239492
JournalPloS one
Volume15
Issue number9 September 2020
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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