Safe and effective pool testing for SARS-CoV-2 detection

J Clin Virol. 2021 Dec:145:105018. doi: 10.1016/j.jcv.2021.105018. Epub 2021 Oct 28.


Objectives: The global spread of SARS-CoV-2 is a serious public health issue. Large-scale surveillance screenings are crucial but can exceed test capacities. We (A) optimized test conditions and (B) implemented pool testing of respiratory swabs into SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics.

Study design: (A) We determined the optimal pooling strategy and pool size. In addition, we measured the impact of vortexing prior to sample processing, compared a pipette-pooling method (by combining transport medium of several specimens) and a swab-pooling method (by combining several swabs into a test tube filled with PBS) as well as determined the sensitivities of three PCR assays. (B) Finally, we applied high-throughput pool testing for diagnostics.

Results: (A) In a low prevalence setting, we defined a preferable pool size of ten in a two-stage hierarchical pool testing strategy. Vortexing of swabs (n = 33) increased cellular yield by a factor of 2.34. By comparing Ct-values of 16 pools generated with two different pooling strategies, pipette-pooling was more efficient compared to swab-pooling. Measuring dilution series of 20 SARS-CoV-2 positive samples in three PCR assays simultaneously revealed detection rates of 85% (assay I), 50% (assay II), and 95% (assay III) at a 1:100 dilution. (B) We systematically pooled 55,690 samples in a period of 44 weeks resulting in a reduction of 47,369 PCR reactions.

Conclusions: For implementing pooling strategies into high-throughput diagnostics, we recommend utilizing a pipette-pooling method, performing sensitivity validation of the PCR assays used, and vortexing swabs prior to analyses. Pool testing for SARS-CoV-2 detection is feasible and effective in a low prevalence setting.

Keywords: Pool testing; SARS-CoV-2; Surveillance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 Testing
  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • RNA, Viral
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Specimen Handling


  • RNA, Viral