Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Harvard researchers want more ‘crappy’ Covid-19 tests




Harvard researchers want more ‘crappy’ Covid-19 tests

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
High-precision molecular tests, known as PCR tests, are still scarce in large swathes of the US and people often must wait hours to get them done. They then have to wait days – or up to a week – for the results. AFP

Harvard researchers want more ‘crappy’ Covid-19 tests

The aphorism “perfect is the enemy of good enough” has been played out to tragic effect in the US’ inadequate testing for the novel coronavirus, according to researchers calling for quick tests that cost only about a dollar each, and which may not be as accurate but can be carried out several times a week by the whole population.

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, has for weeks been pushing for what he calls “crappy” tests.

His idea is to move away from the current high-precision molecular tests, known as PCR tests, which are still scarce in large swathes of the country and which people often have to wait hours to get done, and then have to wait days – or up to a week – for the results.

He has called for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorise the sale of rapid tests which can be done out at home using a strip of paper that changes colour in a quarter of an hour to give a result, similar to a pregnancy test.

These tests have a low sensitivity, which means they miss a lot of positive results and hence give a lot of “false positives”.

But for Mina and other experts, such a strategy would be more effective in terms of public health because across the whole population, the number of cases identified would be higher than under the current system.

The quick tests tend to be good at detecting people who emit a large amount of virus, which is when they are more contagious, right at the beginning, while the PCR tests are very sensitive and can detect even small concentrations of the virus when people are no longer as contagious.

“We’re so focused on high-end expensive tests that we’re not testing anyone,” said Mina in the podcast “This Week in Virology”.

He said: “Maybe we only need a crappy test.

“If it’s cheap enough to use it very frequently, then if it doesn’t detect less than five per cent of people when they’re transmitting, maybe it detects 85 per cent of people when they’re transmitting. And that’s a huge win over what we have right now.”

The head of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, Ashish Jha, touched on the subject on Monday.

“They’re not crappy tests,” he told reporters. “In certain circumstances, they are not so sensitive when you have very low amounts of virus, and you’re not doing much spreading.

“But when you’re infectious, you have large amounts of virus in your throat elsewhere and the test becomes much, much better.

“From an epidemiologic point of view, that’s when you want to capture people. You want to get them when they’re infectious,” he said.

Even if rapid tests miss half the cases, it is likely that with two tests a week, they will end up detecting them.

It must also be noted that the current system is thought to be missing nine cases out of ten because so few people are being tested, according to estimates by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The FDA has still not authorised the sale of any of the paper strip tests, which would cost between one and five dollars.

Jha said: “I’m worried that our federal government is still stuck in a mental model that doesn’t make sense for this pandemic.”

MOST VIEWED

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • First ‘mobile kitchen’ in Cambodia enters service

    A catering company recently rolled out Cambodia’s first “mobile kitchen” – a $50,000 container capable of serving up to 200 people at a time. The kitchen is the brainchild of Seng Hok Heng Catering Services. At 4.4m-high, 6.8m-long and 2.4m-wide (expandable to 6.8m), the kitchen is equipped

  • Kingdom, China rebut basis for US sanctions

    The Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Tianjin Union Investment Development Group Co Ltd (Tianjin) have responded to US sanctions on Union Development Group Co Ltd (UDG), a Chinese-owned company currently developing the sprawling $3.8 billion Dara

  • ‘Bad news is an investor’s best friend’ – unlocking investment potential in Cambodia

    It is time to shop. Economic woes provide good pickings for investors if they know where to look The poem If, written by English Nobel laureate poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling for his son circa 1895, is widely perceived as fatherly advice for John who would

  • PM requests Russia’s Covid vaccine

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that Russia provide Cambodia with its Covid-19 vaccine after the former announced it planned on mass vaccinating its population next month. The request came on Thursday through the prime minister’s Facebook page as he met with Anatoly Borovik,

  • Influenza breaks out in eight provinces

    Nearly 600 people have been infected with influenza in eight provinces in the past month, Ministry of Health spokesperson Or Vandine said. The ministry is advising extreme caution. A report released by Vandine on Saturday said the Ministry of Health observed transmissions of influenza between August 15