Two minutes to positive? Sheba trialing new antigen coronavirus test

"This is one way to get Israel out of lockdown."

 TEST TUBE with coronavirus label is seen at the end of January.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
TEST TUBE with coronavirus label is seen at the end of January.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer is piloting a rapid coronavirus test that health officials say “is one way to get Israel out of lockdown.”
The rapid test for antigens detects protein portions of the virus and can render results within two to 15 minutes. So far, it has a 100% success rate in identifying those who are infected, according to Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, Sheba’s head of infectious diseases.
Around 300 people have been screened using the new tests, which were purchased from Korea and Europe, she said. There is also an American version of the testing kit, but Israel does not yet have access to it.
Currently, the trial is being done on doctors who work in the hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine and some other staff to allow them to come to work; otherwise, they would have to remain at home waiting for the results after exposure to the virus.
A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which amplifies the DNA exponentially by doubling the number of molecules repeatedly, is performed at the same time for control purposes.
The new test is faster and cheaper than standard PCR tests and does not require any special technological equipment. Since the test involves a swabbing, it must be performed by skilled personnel. However, a saliva-based antigen test is in the works, and then it could even be done at home, Regev-Yochay said.
The test is performed by taking a sample from the patient using a swab inserted into a test tube with fluid. In the next step, the extract of the liquid is placed on a test that is similar to a home pregnancy test, and an immediate answer is obtained. The appearance of a single stripe means negative. Two stripes means positive.
The tests will become available on a larger scale within weeks, Regev-Yochay said.
Currently, there are three types of tests available: PCR swab tests, serological or antibody tests and antigen tests. PCR tests can take between two and 12 hours to process and cost three times as much as antigen tests. Antibody tests screen for immunity.
Regev-Yochay said she could envision these types of tests being implemented in red city schools, where serological tests would first determine if a high percentage of students have immunity. If so, then the remainder of students could take a quick test in the morning before heading to class.
“I really think this is going to make a change in the way we can handle the pandemic,” she said.