COVID-19 tests under the microscope

Burnet Institute

25 April, 2020

Image: Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC has spoken of the need for accurate and reliable tests to help manage Australia’s transition away from community lockdowns for COVID-19.

While serological surveys and ‘sentinel testing’ will be important to help determine the extent of infection in the community, many of the tests on the market have a tendency to yield false positives which can distort the true rate of infection.

This can occur when tests cross-react to antibodies generated by coronaviruses other than COVID-19.

“Antibody tests have a false positivity rate in this area, often of one, two or three per cent,” Professor Crabb told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“That doesn’t sound very much, but … if you do a sero-prevalence survey with an error rate of one per cent and your [infection] prevalence rate is 0.1 per cent, you may be wrong nine out of 10 times.”

Professor Crabb said he expects the situation to become clearer soon, with Burnet also working to develop a point-of-care diagnostic for COVID-19.

“Whether it is our [test] or someone else’s, in the next few weeks the country will have a really good sense of what we can use for which purpose, and what we can’t,” he said.

He cautioned that ‘when’ to ease social controls is not about picking a specific date.

“It’s when mechanisms are in place to track the virus in the community,” Professor Crabb said. “Let’s hope that is one week away but it could be much longer than three weeks."

Click here to read the Sydney Morning Herald article in full.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Director and CEO; Co-Head Malaria Research Laboratory; Chair, Victorian Chapter of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)




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