In DepthInfectious Diseases

Labs scramble to produce new coronavirus diagnostics

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Science  14 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6479, pp. 727
DOI: 10.1126/science.367.6479.727

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The world is in the dark about the real scale and speed of the epidemic caused by the virus now called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 because existing tests are inadequate—and testing is far too spotty. Yes, within days of Chinese researchers releasing the sequence of the virus on 11 January, scientists developed tests capable of detecting genetic sequences that distinguish the new agent from other coronaviruses circulating in humans. And yes, by 28 January, China's National Medical Products Administration had approved diagnostic test kits from five companies. But today, there aren't nearly enough test kits available to keep up with the skyrocketing case numbers and some parts of the world may lack enough trained laboratory staff to apply them. And because the genetic tests look for snippets of viral genetic material in nose and throat swabs or fluid collected from the lungs, they only work when somebody has an active infection. Scientists are still scrambling to detect antibodies against the virus in the blood, which could help find people who had an infection and recovered.

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