South Africa: Antibody Testing - the Missing Weapon in the Fight Against COVID-19 in South Africa

analysis

The global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and Covid-19 disease have challenged humanity in many ways. It has also changed the health profession. One example is how laboratory professionals, clinicians, scientists and technical staff moved from their usual role of providing ancillary information to primary clinicians and public health experts to centre stage. This is because laboratory tests are essential for the control of this pandemic, contributing to case identification, isolation, contact tracing, and rationalisation of infection control measures.

Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT) are currently the gold standard for the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Within weeks of the first cases in Wuhan, NAAT tests - specifically real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests - were developed by laboratories of the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as the China and US centres for disease control (CDC) public health agencies.

This was possible because of the dramatic achievement of quickly sequencing the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2, a new virus in humans. This allowed the development of tests using specific probes or primers that recognise unique sections of the genetic material of the virus. Primers are either directed at essential viral particle structures like the envelope (E gene) or nucleocapsid (N gene) or enzymes that...

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