General Question

LostInParadise's avatar

Have you heard about this pooling approach to virus testing?

Asked by LostInParadise (29660points) September 21st, 2020

I just heard about this on the radio and found this article discussing it. It is being used in Israel and has been used in the past for other disorders.

The advantage that the method has over just simply grouping samples is that if there is a positive result, the method can determine who it is, even if there are a few people with positive results. The example given used 48 samples for 384 people, which would allow for one test for every 8 people. I don’t know the exact way that it is done, but each person is part of 6 of the pooled samples. The combination of positive results from the 48 samples is a key that tells who was responsible.

I have seen elsewhere that the method used is based on something called the Reed-Solomon error correction code. I have a rough idea of how error correction codes work, but do not see how this relates to test pools. If any of you see the connection, please tell what it is.

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7 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

Yes. A few months ago they talked about using it for COVID19 at universities in America and probably some work places. I assume they are doing it. It sounded like that was the plan when I saw interviews discussing it.

Caravanfan's avatar

Yes. We’re not doing it yet, but it’s a viable method of testing.

LuckyGuy's avatar

It is a brilliant idea. Some labs are experimenting now using sewage as the test sample. Theoretically they can take a sample from a dormitory wing or floor and use that as a quick test to decide if further testing is required.
False negatives are a problem today but I have confidence in the system.

MrGrimm888's avatar

As long as a testing method is effective, we should use it. We need to collect as much data, as possible.

SEKA's avatar

I thought that we had been doing this for months. At least they were taking about it several months back and it sounded as though it had been put into use so the tests would come back faster

lf tests to determine who in that batch actually had the virus came back negative then every person in the batch tested received a notification of negative results However, if the tests came back positive,then each person in the batch went through another test to determine who actually tested positive

LostInParadise's avatar

@SEKA , The system is set up so that if the tests come back positive, they know whose sample it was. Each person has a sample in six of the pools. The group of six is unique for each person. The system can also handle cases where a few people test positive. I wish I could say more, but I don’t know the specifics.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Yes, I heard about it earlier in the pandemic. Practical math applications are really interesting and satisfying.

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