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High-sensitivity SARS-CoV-2 group testing by digital PCR among symptomatic patients in hospital settings

    A. Martin , A. Storto , Q. Le Hingrat , G. Collin , B. André, A. Mallory , R. Dangla , D. Descamps , B. Visseaux , O. Gossner
    Journal of Clinical Virology, 2021

    Background: Worldwide demand for SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR testing is still high as testing remains central to follow the disease spread and vaccine efficacy. Group testing has been proposed as a solution to expand testing capabilities but sensitivity concerns may limit its impact on the management of the pandemic. Digital PCR (RT-dPCR) has been shown to be highly sensitive and could help by providing larger testing capabilities without compromising sensitivity.

    Methods: We implemented RT-dPCR based COVID-19 group testing on a commercially available system and assay (naica® system from Stilla Technologies) and investigated the sensitivity of the method in real life conditions of a university hospital in Paris, France, in May 2020. We tested the protocol in a direct comparison with reference RT-PCR testing on 448 samples split into groups of 8, 16 and 32 samples for RT-dPCR analysis.

    Results: Individual RT-PCR testing identified 25/448 positive samples. Using 56 groups of 8, RT-dPCR identified 23 groups as positive, corresponding to 26 positive samples by individual PCR (positive percentage agreement 95.2% [95% confidence interval: 76.2-99.9%]) and including 2 samples not detected by individual RT-PCR but confirmed positive by further investigation. 15 of 28 groups of 16 tested positive, corresponding to 25 positive samples by individual PCR (positive percentage agreement 87.5% [95% confidence interval: 61.7-98.4%]). 14 groups of 32 were fully concordant with individual PCR testing but will need to be confirmed on larger datasets.