Oct. 8 (UPI) -- A rapid, bedside test for COVID-19 delivers results in less than two hours, meaning that appropriate treatment can be initiated earlier for those already hospitalized because of their symptoms, according to a study published Thursday by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
The standard COVID-19 test uses polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, technology, which amplifies small samples of DNA in order to identify the presence of virus in samples taken from an infected person's nose or throat.
The PCR test requires samples to be sent to a centralized lab within the hospital for processing, typically takes more than 20 hours to produce results, the researchers said.
The enhanced speed of the bedside, or "point-of-care" tests, also means patients infected with the new coronavirus can be isolated earlier, reducing the risk for transmission to other patients and healthcare workers.
"Our findings are the first to suggest the clinical benefits of molecular point-of-care COVID-19 testing in hospitals, demonstrating reduced delays, bed moves and time in assessment areas, which all lead to better infection control," study co-author Dr. Tristan William Clark, of Southampton General Hospital in England, said in a statement.
"We believe that [these] molecular [tests] should be urgently integrated ... to reduce coronavirus transmission within hospitals to prevent the next wave of the pandemic overwhelming health services around the world," Clark said.
Since the start of the global pandemic in March, healthcare systems worldwide have relied on PCR testing of patient samples in centralized hospital laboratories, an approach that is accurate, but also lengthy and resource intensive, according to Clark and his colleagues.
The longer time it takes to generate results with PCR testing means that patients often wait in mixed assessment rooms to be admitted to the correct COVID-19 or non-COVID ward, increasing the possibility of transmission, the researchers said.
However, with point-of-care tests, nasal and throat swab samples are collected and placed into small cartridges for analysis. Unlike PCR tests, which require specially trained lab personnel, the bedside tests can be performed by healthcare workers in the emergency room or other assessment area, they said.
For this study, Clark and his colleagues evaluated the QIA-stat-Dx point-of-care testing platform, manufactured by Dutch firm Qiagen, in 1,054 adults with COVID-19 symptoms being assessed in the acute medical unit and emergency department of Southampton General Hospital between March 20 and April 29.
Nose and throat swabs were taken from all patients and tested for COVID-19 infection, with 499 patients evaluated using the QIA-stat-Dx, while the rest were assessed using only PCR testing. All test results were confirmed using the standard PCR approach as well, the researchers said.
Among those tested with QIA-stat-Dx, 197, or 39%, were found to be positive for COVID-19, while 155, or 28%, of those evaluated by only PCR were positive for the virus, the data showed.
The point-of-care test produced results in roughly 1.7 hours on average, while PCR evaluation took approximately 21.3 hours per patient, according to the researchers.
After testing, patients were transferred to definitive COVID-positive or negative wards, a process that took eight hours in the QIA-stat-Dx group and 28.8 hours in the PCR-only group, the researchers said.
With the bedside testing, approximately 14% of patients were transferred directly to the correct ward immediately and bypassed the assessment area, they said.
In addition, the point-of-care test was found to be more than 99% accurate at correctly identifying those positive for the virus, according to the researchers.
Most of the patients found to have COVID-19 in the study were recruited into a separate clinical trial evaluating treatments for the virus, with those evaluated with QIA-stat-Dx enrolled in the second study two days faster, on average, than those assessed by PCR only, the researchers said.
"Recruiting patients into clinical trials remains an international priority throughout this pandemic and is vital to accelerating the search for effective treatments," Clark said.
"This is especially true when researchers are investigating the potential of antivirals, which have to be administered at early disease stages to have the greatest benefit," he said.