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.
Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier B.V.