Background. Health and social management of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic, responsible for the COVID-19 disease, requires both screening tools and diagnostic procedures. Reliable screening tests aim at identifying (truely) infectious individuals that can spread the viral infection and therefore are essential for tracing and harnessing the epidemic diffusion. Instead, diagnostic tests should supplement clinical and radiological findings, thus helping in establishing the diagnosis. Several analytical assays, mostly using RT-PCR-based technologies, have become commercially available for healthcare workers and clinical laboratories. However, such tests showed some critical limitations, given that a relevant number of both false-positive and false-negative cases have been so far reported
Moreover, those analytical techniques demonstrated to be significantly influenced by pre-analytical biases, while the sensitivity showed a dramatic time dependency. Aim. Herein, we critically investigate limits and perspectives of currently available RT-PCR techniques, especially when referring to the required performances in providing reliable epidemiological and clinical information.
Key Concepts. Current data cast doubt on the use of RT-PCR swabs as a screening procedure for tracing the evolution of the current SARS-COV-2 pandemic. Indeed, the huge number of both false-positive and false-negative results deprives the trustworthiness of decision making based on those data. Therefore, we should refine current available analytical tests to quickly identify individuals able to really transmit the virus, with the aim to control and prevent large outbreaks