Needed: At-home COVID-19 detection testsApril 10, 2021
The biggest risk factor in the current pandemic setting involves people traveling or attending social gatherings while carrying an asymptomatic COVID-19 infection.
However, going by the current rate of vaccination, it will take a long time for the majority of the people to get vaccinated. At the same time, we seem to have embarked on a second wave of infections and seem set for a spike in numbers this summer.
Nevertheless, tackling COVID-19 in 2021 will be different from how it was done last year. There will be new COVID-19 treatments, including antivirals that are still being tested and may even turn out to be better than remdesivir.
New drugs, newer use
Fast tracking the development of new monoclonal antibodies and peptide-based therapies can give us improved ways to tackle the infection. For example, a short peptide is being developed as a prophylactic cream and a nasal spray for therapeutic purposes. Another important area of research is on ways in which therapies are administered. For example, researchers are studying whether giving patients antivirals earlier in the course of COVID-19 can keep people from getting really sick. Making drugs easier to access will also be a focus in 2021. This is particularly important as therapies such as monoclonal bodies are given intravenously at a hospital or a healthcare facility, unlike pills and inhalers. In addition to new drugs and access modalities, doctors and healthcare facilities will also be much better prepared to help patients. One important step in this regard is to make diagnostics more accessible. Public health experts have been pushing for more affordable and accessible at-home testing and 2021 may see the dawn of such technologies.
Moving COVID-19 testing out of the lab and into the home will be a big advancement. This can bring down the wait time for the results and help people to self-isolate and take all precautionary methods in a timely fashion. Such testing could therefore help people make everyday decisions that could save lives, such as whether to go to school, work or board an airplane. However, accuracy will be a key factor for such technologies, and data in this regard is being submitted to the Indian Council of Medical Research and FDA at present.
As of now, many of these tests show an accuracy rate of above 90 percent, but this may come down in the real world. Companies like The Ellume and BinaxNOW are giving rapid tests to health care providers. The Cue and Lucira tests use a newer isothermal amplification technology, like PCR.
Meanwhile a negative test can give confidence to people to go about their routine, such as going to work, school, college or visiting a family member. However, the danger is that they may be brewing an infection, as the present antigen tests are not sensitive enough to detect them.
A study by CDC showed that Abbott’s antigen test identified only 34 percent of COVID-19 infections in asymptomatic people.
Two UAE-based companies have collaborated with Canada’s Laipac Technology to launch an artificial intelligence-powered rapid COVID-19 antigen test.
Similar technologies will change how we deal with these infections without lockdowns. Besides, there are several airports which are setting up laboratories to perform PCR testing. Many airlines have already seen a drop in bookings with the mandatory negative test requirement. Setting up a simple, but sensitive antigen test can help.
In this regard, the current guidelines from the union health ministry requires states and union territories to retest symptomatic negative cases from rapid antigen tests with RT-PCR. On the other hand, there are new technologies — such as multiple assay systems which have flu and COVID-19 in one testing kit — which can significantly reduce the need for RT-PCR.