Estonian Health Board: Quick tests for coronavirus not trustworthy

  • 2020-03-10
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN – The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) believes that, due to insufficient validation, the quick tests for detecting coronavirus are not trustworthy and may therefore give false-negative results, the Estonian Health Board said.

Mari-Anne Harma, head of the infectious disease monitoring and epidemic control department at the Estonian Health Board, said that at the moment, infection can be detected by analysis of the nasopharynx and throat, because people spread the virus as a drop infection, for example, by coughing and sneezing. "The reliability of rapid tests has not yet been established and their use may therefore be dangerous in terms of epidemic control," Harma said, adding that people who received a false-negative result with a quick test may unknowingly spread the virus further. "At the moment, both World Health Organization (WHO) and ECDC experts believe that a reliable quick test for coronavirus detection has not yet been launched to the market," she added.

In Estonia, only the laboratories of the Health Board and Synlab are currently able to identify COVID-19, but in a few days, this capability will also be established at the laboratories of the North Estonia Medical Center, Tartu University Hospital, East-Viru Central Hospital and Parnu Hospital, the Health Board said.

WHO recommends using lower respiratory tract samples for testing against 2019-nCoV. If the patient has no symptoms of lower respiratory tract illness or if sampling of the lower respiratory tract is not possible, material from the upper respiratory tract should be examined.

In addition to regular ambulance teams, there are also additional two-person teams consisting of a healthcare worker and emergency medicine technician operating in both Tallinn and Tartu. The additional teams only service calls concerning coronavirus suspicions. The two-member teams take samples from people at their homes. Upon suspicion of coronavirus in a public place -- like an airport or port --, the call is responded to around the clock by a three-member ambulance team, which will also take the person suspected of having the coronavirus to hospital.

People who suspect that they are infected should consult with their family doctor or make a call to the family doctor hotline 1220. In case of more serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, a call should be made to the emergency number 112. People should definitely not go to the emergency room of a hospital for help, as this may cause the person to spread the virus to other people in the room.

Coronavirus should be suspected if the person has been in a risk area within the past 14 days, has been exposed to the coronavirus, and has symptoms characteristic of the disease, such as cough, fever and/or breathing difficulties. Otherwise, it may be the flu or a flu-like virus that is widespread in Estonia.

In addition to avoiding close contact with people who have symptoms of respiratory illness, adherence to hygiene rules, which include proper and constant washing of hands, helps prevent infectious diseases.

Taking into account the ECDC's risk assessment, the Health Board believes that the virus risk areas include China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. The risk of infection is high for people in countries with widespread local spread.