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Host response-based screening to identify undiagnosed cases of COVID-19and expand testing capacity

By Nagarjuna R Cheemarla, Anderson F. Brito, Joseph R Fauver, Tara Alpert, Chantal B.F. Vogels, Saad B Omer, Albert Ko, Nathan D. Grubaugh, Marie L. Landry, Ellen F. Foxman

Posted 05 Jun 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.06.04.20109306

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges in diagnostic testing. At the beginning of the epidemic, a confluence of factors resulted in delayed deployment of PCR-based diagnostic tests, resulting in lack of testing of individuals with symptoms of the disease. Although these tests are now more widely available, it is estimated that a three- to ten-fold increase in testing capacity will be required to ensure adequate surveillance as communities reopen(1). In response to these challenges, we evaluated potential roles of host-response based screening in the diagnosis of COVID-19. Previous work from our group showed that the nasopharyngeal (NP) level of CXCL10, a protein produced as part of the host response to viral infection, is a sensitive predictor of respiratory virus infection across a wide spectrum of viruses(2). Here, we show that NP CXCL10 is elevated during SARS-CoV-2 infection and use a CXCL10-based screening strategy to identify four undiagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut in early March. In a second set of samples tested at the Yale New Haven Hospital, we show that NP CXCL10 had excellent performance as a rule-out test (NPV 0.99, 95% C.I. 0.985-0.997). Our results demonstrate how biomarker-based screening could be used to leverage existing PCR testing capacity to rapidly enable widespread testing for COVID-19.

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