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New developments Professor Luke O'Neill says new Covid-19 'superspreader' test could be ready soon

"The superspreaders often don't have symptoms and that's what makes it really difficult."


Hope ahead: Immunologist Luke O’Neill

Hope ahead: Immunologist Luke O’Neill

Hope ahead: Immunologist Luke O’Neill

Professor Luke O'Neill has said a new breathalyser-style test which will be able to identify Covid-19 'superspreaders' could be ready "sooner rather than later". 

Mr O’Neill, who is Professor of Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, said he learned about the new test while attending a virtual international conference.

People from across Europe, China, Japan, India, and the US heard that the deputy head of testing from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States was said to be "very excited" about the advances in testing.

The viable RNA virus assay that measures how much live virus someone has, is believed to be more indicative than the standard PCR test.

Professor O’Neill told The Pat Kenny Show that he believes it could be ready "sooner rather than later" as scientists are working "hell for leather" trying to get the viable RNA virus assay going.

"While the test is still a work in progress, it is envisaged that it will be used to identify superspreaders,” he said.

"It looks as if only one in ten people are spreading, it may be even lower than it was in a recent study.

“So while ten people might test positive, only one of them is actually spreading the virus. You would love to know who that person is, so that's what this test will hopefully do.”

He added: "We all agreed that PCR tests are a bit too sensitive, they'll pick up tiny amounts of the virus and just because you're positive doesn't mean you're infectious,” he said.

"The PCR test is the standard test for positively, if you've had the virus you might be infectious and that's important.

"But a much better test, if you're going to spread the virus, is the viable RNA virus assay and it actually measures the amount of virus that's in your breath that's viable.

"If you get a measure on that, that will be a much better predictor of who's infections and who isn't, especially the superspreader.

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He added: "We'll know how many viral particles in your breath make you infectious so it's a much more powerful way to measure this."

The Professor said that the representative from the NIH used the example of a football stadium to show how the new test could be used.

He said: "The example she gave is a football stadium, on your way in, you do a breathalyser effectively and then you isolate the superspreaders and the rest can go in and watch the game.

"The superspreaders often don't have symptoms and that's what makes it really difficult."

He added: "We can immediately isolate the superspreaders and that will have a massive impact on the spread then because you're able to isolate the ones that are causing the spread of the virus."

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