Implementing Practical Surface SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance in Public Health Laboratories and Schools

Surface sampling for SARS-CoV-2 RNA has shown promise in detecting exposure of environments to infected individuals shedding the virus that would otherwise go undetected. Now a new study, published in mSystemsan open access journal from the American Society for Microbiology, shows that the methodology used to detect COVID-19 in nasal swabs from public health clinics, Viral Transport Medium (VTM)/PerkinElmer Pipeline, can be used to detect COVID-19 on surfaces in indoor settings such as schools.

Public health labs can now test for the virus that causes COVID-19 not only in people, but also traces left in the environment with the equipment they already have. »

Rob Knight, Ph.D., Study Lead Author, Professor of Pediatrics, Computer Science, and Engineering and Bioengineering, University of California San Diego

In the study, the researchers compared sampling and testing methods they developed at the university (the sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)/Thermo pipeline) to methods used in public health facilities (the VTM/Perkin Elmer pipeline). The SDS/Thermo methodology uses robotic automation and specific reagents that are often not available in public health laboratories. The researchers placed SARS-CoV-2 on laminated cards in the labs and then tested the 2 methods of detecting the virus.

The researchers found that the method developed by the university, the SDS/Thermo pipeline, has superior sensitivity and specificity, but the VTM/PerkinElmer pipeline is still sufficient to support surface monitoring in indoor environments such as as schools, prisons and group homes. The SDS/Thermo pipeline showed higher sensitivity with a false negative rate of 9% versus 27% for the VTM/PerkinElmer pipeline.

“This study is a comparison between a research laboratory and a public health technique for measuring SARS-CoV-2 in the environment,” Dr Knight said. “Although the VTM/Perkin Elmer pipeline is less sensitive, it was still useful to use in surface sampling programs such as the Safer at School Early Alert (SASEA) program. public health already have for clinical testing can be used to test environmental surfaces as well This is going to be very useful and applicable in public health labs as a surveillance method for schools and other settings where you need to detect the virus that causes COVID without having to administer a clinical test.


American Society for Microbiology

Journal reference:

Cantu, VJ, et al. (2022) Implementing Practical Surface SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance in School Settings. mSystems.

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