Labs Are Trying Hard to Fight Corona Virus
Upgraded test kits are on their way to keep pace with the outbreak
Labs Are Trying Hard to Fight Coronavirus
The increasing number of cases and deaths across the world because of the novel coronavirus is not limited to Wuhan, China only. This outbreak's exceedingly nearly 28 countries worldwide is a constant threat for all of us. The spread started back in December 2019, and yet, scientists fight for understanding the speed and real scale of this epidemic. Their infrastructure to test the spread is not well equipped and has limited powers. Welcome Trust’s head Jeremy Farrar says, “We are underestimating how common this infection is.”
On 11 January, Chinese researchers were able to release the sequence of the virus. Basing on that, scientists developed newer test systems that can detect genetic sequences. They can distinguish coronaviruses’ new agents within the human body. After this, many companies developed diagnostic tools and 5 of them got approval from National Medical Products Administration, China by 28 January. Such a type of speed in showing response against an epidemic is astonishing, and it was only the first step.
But even today the number of kits is not sufficient to cope up with the pace of the disease. Also, there is a lack of professional lab staff who can apply these advanced tests. The newer test kits are not away from limitations as they only work on actively infected individuals. So, scientists are working day and night tirelessly to find out antibodies against the virus in the blood.
Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province. The whole province has 75% of the 43,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The disease has this name on 11 February given by the World Health Organization.
The increase makes it harder for hospitals to use the kits. Many news reports from Hubei hint on the shortage. Ian Lipkin says, “They’re overwhelmed.” He is an epidemiologist at Columbia University. He is currently at home in a self-imposed quarantine because he returned from China recently. In Hubei, people who sought medical care were only the subject of the test. But people with milder cases with little or no symptoms remained away from the test. The scene is very disappointing outside Hubei. Another epidemiologist from the University of Hong Kong, Keiji Fukuda says, “What’s the full picture in the other parts of China?”
Still, some questions remain. Although there is no instance of cases confirmed in Africa, it may be for a little testing. According to John Nkengasong, only two African labs were furnished with the equipment to detect the virus. He is head of the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. He says, “If this virus had shown up in Africa in December, or early January, it would have been devastating.” He also confirms that the continent has taken better preparation. As a step of this, 15 workers from different African countries gathered in a workshop in Dakar, Senegal to have proper training on using the new viral tests last week. Another workshop will start next week, Nkengasong confirms. The spread rate is too massive that it will surprise Farrar if there is no instance of this virus attack in Africa.
The supply rate in the United States is not also up to the mark. According to the policy of the country, only the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can supply all the tests. But sadly, they started doing that from 5 February. They shipped only 200 kits that can perform 800 tests each. Similarly, as in China, scientists focus on them who only confirm the symptoms. They also ignore most of the people who fly back from China with fewer or no symptoms. Wendi Kuhnert-Tallman says, “We’re not able to do the surveillance that we would want to do.” He is the head of the CDC’s laboratory task force for the virus.
For developing the antibody tests, many labs besides Lipkin’s are working harder. It will not help to diagnose acute cases but will clarify many mysteries of this virus’s spread.
The tests run on using a surface protein of the virus. But the Lipkin’s case uses an array of peptides. By doing so, the tests capture antibodies within the blood affected by the virus. A new test needs infected people’s blood. Kuhnert-Tallman says that it is wise to wait three weeks for antibody level building after a person gets affected. “So far, we have one single case in the U.S. that has reached the 21-day mark,” he says. Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands has been working on antibody development. Marion Koopmans and his team are going to highlight the first version of an antibody test’s studies next week. After a few weeks, we hope that companies will develop antibody kits and spread them among the affected areas.
By these antibody tests, scientists will be able to find out the whereabouts of the outbreak and which animal is the source of origin. The stored samples of blood from affected people will allow them to search for evidence on the natural reservoir of the virus. Koopmans says, “But the most useful application is to screen different age groups of humans.” It is essential to assess the number of people with few or no symptoms. If researchers find many people with mild cases, they can take proper steps to treat them. This is good news as it will diminish the number of affected people.