2-hour coronavirus test hailed as a game changer
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London - A two-hour test for coronavirus could help to free up hospital beds if the flu season coincides with a second wave of the virus this winter.
The game-changing British-designed test has slashed the average time it takes to get a result from the current 26 hours.
Used for just 10 days at a teaching hospital in Cambridge, it prevented 11 bays needing to be closed by quickly giving patients the all-clear. The average time people spent on coronavirus "holding" wards was almost halved.
The Samba II test, which uses nose and throat swabs from patients, does not need a hospital laboratory.
Instead a nearby machine capable of processing ten to 15 tests a day produces a rapid result in the form of a single, horizontal grey line – rather like a pregnancy test.
Professor Ravi Gupta, from the University of Cambridge, who led a study on the test after it was introduced last month at the city’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital, said: "The backlog of routine operations and screenings as a result of the pandemic is a huge issue and must be resolved ahead of winter, when the NHS will face even more pressure from other infections like norovirus and influenza.
"Rapidly testing admissions at the point of care is essential for reducing Covid-19 transmission in hospitals, speeding up access to urgent care and allowing safe discharge to care homes. It could make all the difference in a few months’ time."
The 2.4 hours for the test to return a result compares with a turnaround time of up to four days in some hospitals.
However this is only the average time based on 149 patients’ results, and some have come back even more quickly – in some cases within 90 minutes.
Researchers were able to compare the Samba II test with conventional swab tests, which are processed in a hospital lab, after 20 of the machines used to process results were introduced to Addenbrooke’s last month.
Comparing 913 people given the new test over ten days with 599 who took the old test, they found that the time in a "holding" coronavirus ward fell from 58.5 hours to less than 30 hours on average.
The risk of an overcrowded A&E was reduced, with the test helping to move patients out and on to a ward almost six hours quicker, in just over 24 hours.
The use of single-occupancy rooms, which need to be deep-cleaned for coronavirus patients, was cut from 30.8 percent to 21.1 percent. The 11 bays which did not close had up to eight patients in them.
The Samba II test, originally developed for screening HIV and Aids in Africa, and backed by hedge fund billionaire Sir Chris Hohn’s charitable foundation, returned just one false result which cleared someone of having coronavirus wrongly – a good performance rate.
The study, which has not yet been published in a journal or peer-reviewed, concludes that the new tests play a vital role in helping to safely discharge patients from hospitals to care homes. Faster results also prevent beds being taken out of service for cleaning, as it shows suspected coronavirus patients are negative.
The test machines, developed by Cambridge University spin-off company Diagnostics for the Real World, search for tiny traces of virus genetic code.