BACKGROUND: The current pandemic of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, widely known as COVID-19, has affected millions of people around the world . The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended vigorous testing to differentiate SARS-CoV-2 from other respiratory infections to aid in guiding appropriate care and management . Situations like this have demanded robust testing strategies and pooled testing of samples for SARS-CoV-2 virus has provided the solution to mass screening of people for COVID-19 . A pooled testing strategy can be very effective in testing when resources are limited, yet it comes with its own limitations . These benefits and limitations need critical consideration when it comes to testing highly infectious diseases like COVID-19 .
METHODS: This study evaluated the pooled testing of nasopharyngeal swabs for SARS-COV-2 by comparing the sensitivity of individual sample testing with 4-and 8-pool sample testing . Median cycle threshold (Ct) values were compared, and the precision of pooled testing was assessed through an inter- and intra-assay of pooled samples . Coefficient of variance was calculated for inter- and intra-assay variability .
RESULTS: The sensitivity becomes considerably lower when the samples are pooled . There is a high percentage of false negative reports with larger sample pool size and when the patient viral load is low or weak positive samples . High variability was seen in the intra- and inter-assay, especially among weak positive samples and when more number of samples are pooled together .
CONCLUSION: As COVID - 19 infection numbers and need for testing remain high, we must meticulously evaluate the testing strategy for each country depending on its testing capacity, infrastructure, economic strength, and need to determine the optimal balance on the cost-effective strategy of resource saving and risk/ cost of missing positive patients.