The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome related Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the virus responsible of the current Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. COVID-19 cases are confirmed by the detection of the presence of the virus in patient’s samples by a molecular test called PCR. It is important to monitor the performance of these tests to stop the spread of the virus.
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome related Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the virus responsible of the current Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the pandemic which started in December 2019. SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus and COVID-19 cases are confirmed by the detection of the viral RNA in patient’s samples by molecular tests called RT-qPCR.
The principle of this test is to detect small regions on the viral genome that are specific for SARS-CoV-2. This detection is very important for:
- establishing a correct diagnosis so that patients can be given proper medical assistance
- for the control, containment and surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 it is important that COVID-19 positive cases are identified.
However, as the virus may evolve and mutate over time, the RT-qPCR tests may no longer detect the virus, with the risk that patients are misdiagnosed and do not receive the proper care, but also risking that persons positive for COVID-19 do not go into quarantine, contributing to the further spread of the virus.
In the context of the fight against SARS-CoV-2, several projects have started at Sciensano. Thanks to this COVIPRIM project, a research team of Sciensano was able to perform a preliminary in silico evaluation of 12 RT-qPCR tests, used worldwide for SARS-Cov-2 detection. More than 4750 publically available genome sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus were included in this study and it was evaluated whether some mutations could potentially affect the correct detection of circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants by these RT-qPCR tests.
As new SARS-CoV-2 sequence data are continuously uploaded to the genomic databases, the scientists of Sciensano will monitor the performance of currently used and future RT-qPCR tests, including those used in Belgium, by applying this methodology again on a regular basis to ensure that these tests provide reliable results, in light of possible mutations occurring in the SARS-CoV-2 genome over time, definitely as soon as a vaccine or treatment will be in place.