Behind the negatives and positives

Danna Mheliza Mae Budano ||

It has been several months since COVID – 19 started plaguing the shores of Eastern Visayas, and since then, we have seen several thousands of cases, with more cases popping up due to hundreds of people being tested everyday. So, how exactly do we test people and determine whether someone has been infected with the COVID-19 virus?

The very first step of testing is the collection of samples. “Samples are collected by trained swabbers from different health facilities across the region. The staff of the COVID lab does not handle sample collection in order to minimize the exposure of the staff to potentially infectious patients,” stated Carlo Chris Apurillo, who is currently working in the Eastern Visayas Regional COVID-19 Testing Center as the Quality Assurance Officer. 

Apurillo explained that the testing center uses the real time Reverse Transcription – Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) protocol where RNA is extracted from a defined volume of the sample from the Universal Transport medium. The Universal Transport medium is used for the collection, storage, and transport of specimen(s) to be tested for viruses. When the RNA has been successfully extracted, the sample would be subjected to polymerase chain reaction (PCR). During PCR, RNA is reverse transcribed into DNA and then amplified. Afterwards, the RT-PCR collects data from the samples during PCR which are then displayed on a computer. The analysts then interpret the data to determine whether or not viral RNA is present in a sample. Once viral RNA is detected, it is recorded as a positive result. 

People have shown concern whether the test results are accurate or not, and Apurillo assured that the real time RT-PCR test is very accurate in detecting the SARS-COV-2 virus as long as all the necessary precautions have been followed. He added,

“The test has 100% analytic sensitivity and 100% analytic specificity. However, its diagnostic sensitivity is only 70% since it is affected by several factors including timing of sample collection, manner of sample collection, and specimen handling and storage.”

The Eastern Visayas Regional COVID-19 Testing Center processes around 300 – 350 samples per shift, each shift lasting around eight or more hours as analysts tend to work beyond office hours. Apurillo mentioned that he usually works 9 – 10 hours a day. 

When asked whether testing is truly an important step in beating the pandemic, Apurillo emphasized that testing allows us to identify individuals infected with the virus. Determining who are infected with the virus is necessary in order to quarantine and isolate these patients, and thus, preventing the further spread of the virus.

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