Health Board: Quick tests for coronavirus not trustworthy

Health Board building.
Health Board building. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

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 Health Board said.

Mari-Anne Härma, director of the Health Board's Infectious Disease Monitoring and Epidemic Control Department, said that at the moment, infection with the virus can be detected by analysis of the nasopharynx and throat, as people spread the virus through respiratory droplets, i.e. through 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," Härma said, adding that people who receive a false negative result from a quick test may unknowingly spread the virus further.

"At the moment, experts from both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the ECDC believe that a reliable quick test for coronavirus detection has not yet been launched on the market," she added.

In Estonia, only Health Board and Synlab laboratories are currently equipped to identify severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19), but in a few days, this capability will also be established at the labors of North Estonia Medical Center (PERH), Tartu University Hospital (TÜK), Ida-Viru Central Hospital and Pärnu Hospital, the Health Board said.

The WHO recommends using samples taken from the lower respiratory tract to test for SARS-CoV-2. If a 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 instead.

In addition to regular paramedic teams, additional two-person teams consisting of a healthcare worker and a paramedic operating in both Tallinn and Tartu. These two-person teams only respond to calls concerning suspected coronavirus, and take samples from patients in their homes. In case of suspicion of infection with the virus in a public place, such as an airport or port, the call will be responded to around the clock by a three-member paramedic team, which will also take the person suspected to be infected to the hospital.

Avoid going to the ER

People who suspect they have been infected with the virus should contact their family doctor or call the national family doctor hotline at 1220. In case of more serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, emergency services should be contacted at 112. People are urged not to go to the emergency room themselves, as this may case an infected person to spread the virus to others at the ER.

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

In addition to avoiding close contact with people exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness, sticking with hygiene rules, which include the frequent proper washing of hands, helps prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

In accordance with the ECDC's risk assessment, the Health Boar considers China, Italy, Iran and South Korea to be at-risk areas. The risk of infection is high for people in countries with widespread local spread of the virus.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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