During the COVID-19 pandemic, animal health laboratories have assisted the public health authorities in many countries in increasing national molecular testing capacity and in developing other diagnostic capabilities for SARS-CoV-2.
In Ireland, the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) Laboratories has worked closely with the National (human) Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL), a private animal health laboratory (Enfer Labs) and the Health Services Executive (HSE) over the course of this pandemic.
In the early months after the first diagnosis of COVID-19 in Ireland, these efforts were focused on adapting laboratories and molecular testing capability ordinarily used for animal disease control programmes, to testing human clinical specimens for SARS-CoV-2 RNA.
Recently, the focus of this “One Health” collaboration has changed from laboratory-based SARS-CoV-2 RNA testing to the application and evaluation of rapid detection methods for SARS-CoV-2 antigen in specific high-risk settings for COVID-19 such as meat processing plants.
Supply chain issues, specifically the availability of reagents for automated extraction of nucleic acids, was a limiting factor and a challenge in national efforts to scale up molecular testing capacity during the first half of 2020. On the flip side, the large number of rapid test kits for SARS-CoV-2 antigen that have recently come to market, with the main advantage of detecting those individuals who are probably infectious. However they present a different type of challenge for public health authorities – how to quickly assess and select the most appropriate test kits for different purposes in a fair, objective and robust manner that complies with public procurement guidelines and to prove their application in “real world” situations. While verification and validation methodologies to compare tests are well established, comparison of testing strategies is more challenging.
Thanks Donal for the interesting presentation. Is a shared diagnostic bank a possible solution for responding to multi-country disease spread and need to rapidly scale up diagnostic capacity?