Coronavirus Infects Famed Research Lab Working on At-Home Test

Coronavirus Infects Famed Research Lab Working on At-Home Test


DAKAR, Senegal — For months, researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, a prestigious biomedical research center in Senegal, have been working to produce a low-cost, rapid, at-home test for the coronavirus — the kind that countries across Africa and elsewhere have been most eager to have.

Now the coronavirus has infected a cluster of staff members at the institute, one of whom has died, according to its director, Dr. Amadou Sall. He did not say how many workers had tested positive, but local media reports said it was five.

Their contacts have been isolated and the work is continuing, according to Cheikh Tidiane Diagne, a researcher at the lab.

The center’s work has been crucial in efforts to contain the spread of the virus in West Africa: In the early stages of the outbreak, it trained laboratory staff from more than a dozen countries in how to test for the virus.

The institute says it is now working on a test kit that would cost as little as $1, and could be used at home. In other countries like the United States, home test kits for the coronavirus have yet to be widely approved or distributed, with many public health experts concerned about whether results would be accurate. So far, the World Health Organization has not recommended them for clinical use, but only in a research setting.

Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who leads a Nigerian government committee on Covid-19, said that if it worked, a $1 antigen test kit would be a “game-changer,” because test kits now sell for more than $50 apiece.

But he had concerns about whether it would be sensitive enough to detect the virus, and said it should be tested in other countries as well as Senegal, to show that it could work in other environments.

Senegal now has 3,739 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 42 deaths. A full lockdown was never imposed, but there is a curfew, restrictions on movement between the country’s regions, and mandatory mask-wearing in public spaces.

“Whatever their level, the staff of the Dakar Pasteur Institute as well as their families are facing the same restrictions, risks and life realities as all Senegalese people, with whom they share the same living conditions,” Dr. Sall said in a statement. “The virus spares no one.”

The British diagnostic company Mologic said it had been working with the institute to make both an antigen test, which detects whether someone has the coronavirus, and an antibody test, which shows whether a person’s immune system has been exposed to it. The diagnostic kit will have two components: a saliva test and a blood test. The 10-minute antibody test should be available first, Mologic said — in June, if production goes according to plan.

Mologic’s co-founder developed the first home pregnancy test, and the Covid-19 home tests use the same basic technology.

Full production is planned to begin in July, according to staff at the institute, which is part of an international network of research centers named after the French biologist Louis Pasteur. The center in Senegal was founded in 1896 by one of the disciples of Pasteur, and has worked on diseases like yellow fever, rabies and malaria.

  • Updated June 1, 2020

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      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

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    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

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      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

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      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.


Researchers hope that home test kits could help increase the testing capacity in countries across Africa, where laboratories have struggled to obtain diagnostic equipment.

Diagnostic equipment is sold on the open market, with no system to help lower-income countries get access, as is the case with vaccines, or to agree on pricing. African countries often have to pay higher prices for them because they buy them in small numbers relative to Western countries, many of which have bulk purchasing arrangements with companies.



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