BERLIN (AP) – As Europe tries to stop the rise of coronavirus infections, Germany is contemplating a new type of test to avoid closing down nursing homes for tourists, a move that has already caused distress. significant for people and loved ones in the spring.
The so-called antigen test, looking for a specific protein on the virus, was first launched a few months ago. They were cheap and fast, but experts said at the time they are also less accurate than standard PCR assays, which detect even the tiniest genetic traces of the virus.
However, Germany ̵1; which has curbed the spread of the epidemic better than many of its neighbors – recently announced that it is buying millions of antigen tests every month.
“We have a new strategy,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Monday. “Now, basically we can do quick tests on visitors to nursing and nursing homes.”
The nursing home will receive up to 20 tests per month free for residents. They can be used to check on patients, staff and – importantly – visit relatives who may unintentionally carry COVID-19, posing a potentially devastating threat.
Merkel said: “The health insurance company will cover the costs for a certain number of visitors per month. “That’s huge progress in terms of protection.”
Germany has one of the oldest population countries in the world. More than 24 million people 60 years of age or older and about 900,000 people live in nursing homes. An additional 2.5 million younger people have a serious disability.
That means nearly 30% of Germany’s 83 million population is particularly vulnerable to the virus, Ms. Merkel said.
“Almost everyone knows someone they don’t want to infect,” she said.
Germany has reported about 550,000 coronavirus infections – less than half of the numbers recorded in the UK, Spain and France. The number of deaths caused by the German confirmed virus is 10,669, which is also a quarter of the UK.
A Health Ministry spokesperson told the AP news agency that the manufacturers had agreed to provide Germany with 9 million antigen tests in November and 11.5 million tests in December.
While antigen tests have become more accurate, experts warn, they should not be considered a substitute for the standard PCR method.
Scientists in Switzerland recently scrutinized two widely available antigen tests, sold by Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories and Switzerland’s pharmaceutical giant Roche. The researchers concluded that out of 100 people infected with the virus, only between 85 and 89 people test positive by the antigen method.
Isabella Eckerle, head of the Center for Emerging Viral Diseases at the University of Geneva, said: “It meets the criteria published by (World Health Organization), must have a sensitivity of more than 80%. . .
While the tests are less accurate, she notes, they give quick results.
“A major advantage of these tests is that you can build a testing center decentralized,” Eckerle told the AP. “So you build a tent, say, before school or in the park, and then people can come. And then 15 minutes later, they will know whether they are positive or not.
However, tests still need to be done by someone qualified for a nose swab.
“This test is not a home test,” she said. “There was nothing you could do around the house before visiting Grandma.”
Sandra Ciesek, head of the Medical Virus Institute at Frankfurt University Hospital, said PCR testing remains the “gold standard” to this day.
But Christian Drosten, one of Germany’s most famous virologists, who developed a first PCR test for COVID-19, has suggested that the antigen method has its uses if people take into account. its limitations.
A distinctive feature of the new coronavirus is the ability to rapidly multiply in the throats of newly infected hosts, causing them to spread the virus for several days before symptoms appear. By the time most people are diagnosed, the amount of virus they release when speaking or even breathing has decreased significantly.
Drosten argues that only a PCR test can determine almost with absolute certainty if someone is infected, but an antigen test can tell if a person is infected – and therefore dangerous. muscle for others.
Some experts say negative results from the antigen test may therefore be enough to allow asymptomatic people to leave the quarantine or return to school or work, giving more freedom. more, especially for children and young people at lower risk of serious illness.
Eckerle, University of Geneva, hesitated.
“I wouldn’t call them game changers,” she said. “They are a very good addition and very important coming at the right time. But because they are less sensitive than the standard tests of us, we know that we can still miss a small percentage of cases of infection. “
That is a risk that some countries may be willing to accept when a pandemic lasts and the availability of the PCR reached its limits.
Antigenic tests have been used in nursing homes and life support facilities in U.S.A. Spain warns about faulty tests early pandemic, but the World Health Organization touted them as a powerful tool for low- and middle-income countries.
Roche said it can supply more than 40 million tests per month antigen worldwide and aims to more than double by the end of this year. The company declined to disclose the prices of the tests but said that “in pandemic situations like these, cost should not be a barrier to accessing the diagnoses”.
Abbott says it is offering “tens of millions” of antigen tests worth $ 5 per month and is working to increase capacity.
When new restrictions go into effect in Germany on Monday with no certainty that they will effectively flatten the curve of infections, Ms. Merkel said the country could have up to 20 million antigen tests by January, bringing some liberal prospects.
“Then we can (…) start thinking about whether we can do this to visit grandparents, not just home care,” she said.
Reporting Achoui-Lesage from Geneva. Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.
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