Tracking the spread of COVID-19
Viruses spread because they can rapidly copy their genetic material and produce more virus. Each virus—including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19—has its own unique RNA genetic blueprint. This RNA signature alerts scientists to the presence of a specific disease.
Part of the obstacle scientists have faced is that the spread of the COVID-19 is extremely difficult to track. The disease is highly contagious, but while some people become extremely ill, others may display only mild disease symptoms or none at all. COVID-19 also has a long incubation period. This means that people can spread the disease long before they become ill or without ever knowing they carry it. Even aggressive contact tracing can miss COVID-19 cases, and not all COVID-19 cases are reported to hospitals, especially in rural areas where hospitals are few and far between.
Detecting SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA in patient tissue samples is important because it allows for appropriate medical treatment, and alerts doctors to the need for contact tracing. Scientists now know that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 shed viral particles in bodily fluids and fecal material even when they are asymptomatic . This critical piece of information is helping healthcare workers pinpoint the presence of COVID-19 without necessarily having to rely on hospital case reporting.
Detecting the presence of viral RNA in the environment, through surveillance of community wastewater systems, can alert healthcare workers to the presence of COVID-19 in the community without necessarily having to rely on hospital case counts. The earlier an outbreak is detected, the more quickly it can be stopped in its tracks.
Over the past year, hospitals worldwide have had a single primary focus—how to deal with and eliminate COVID-19. In this special 2-part blog series, we examine the ins and outs of disease detection and how important RNA extraction technology is for slowing the spread of COVID-19.
RNA Extraction for SARS-CoV-2 Detection
As soon as the virus responsible for COVID-19 was identified, scientists began working on ways to detect it. RNA extraction is key to this effort. RNA extraction technology is a critical component of COVID-19 research, vaccine development, patient testing, and community wastewater surveillance. However, the rapid pace of COVID-19 research and the global supply line disruptions caused by COVID-19 related shutdowns has led to worldwide shortages in commercial extraction kit availability.  This has become a severe bottleneck for COVID-19 detection efforts.
Pall Nucleic Acid Binding (NAB) Nanosep® spin device and AcroPrep™ filter plates are both being used for extraction of SARS-CoV-2 RNA prior to RT-PCR. The NAB Nanosep device provides for rapid isolation and purification of viral RNA for low to medium throughput research applications, while the AcroPrep filter plate is more suited to high-throughput and commercial applications.
The spin column and filter plate methods for viral RNA preservation has several advantages over other methods; it helps solve the bottleneck in the RNA extraction kit supply since the device can be used in combination with leftover reagents from commercial kits. There is no need for special chemicals or equipment to extract the RNA and no need for special storage conditions. In fact, there is emerging data in favor of using spin devices for Coronavirus RNA extraction; it appears the viral RNA is stable in the silica membrane of spin devices for months at room temperature.