WHO releases updated guidance on COVID-19 testing

June 29, 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its guidance on COVID-19 testing strategies to account for a wider range of situations in countries, including the circulation of more transmissible variants, and the use of new tests.

The updated guidance describes recommendations for national testing strategies and the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and rapid antigen tests in different transmission scenarios of the COVID-19 outbreak, including how testing might be rationalized in low resource settings.

“All testing should be followed by a strong public health response including isolating those who test positive and providing them care, contact tracing and quarantine of contacts” the WHO said.

The WHO called nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) the “reference standard,” but also said that “high quality antigen-detection lateral flow or rapid diagnostic tests (Ag-RDTs), which are simple to use and offer rapid results” help countries increase the number of people they can test.

The organization also said it only recommends testing of asymptomatic individuals with NAATs or Ag-RDTs for specific groups, including contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases and frequently exposed groups such as healthcare workers.        

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