Sample Management in a post-Covid-19 era!

Sample Management in a post-Covid-19 era!

As Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc globally, laboratories working on the SARS-COV-2 virus will have robust risk assessments for handling this risk category 3 material.  Considering the widespread prevalence of this disease, coupled with the existence of asymptomatic patients with potentially high viral loads, there will be samples collected for other purposes that are infected and may pose a risk to those handling these materials and the wider community.  Therefore, it is important that all laboratories risk assess the use of samples collected, or analysed, in this post-Covid-19 era. 

The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens, alongside the Health & Safety Executive, have agreed upon a risk-based proportionate approach, whereby certain laboratory activities can be derisked to containment level 2.  Each company must carry out its own risk assessment for their specific activities and below are just a few of the things to consider:

  • Process map your sample journey from transport, receipt, unpacking, storage, aliquoting, use, and disposal. Have you considered all potential risks, including accidental damage?

  • Are you carrying out studies directly analysing the virus, e.g. viral propagation?

  • Consider the route of entry, what are the chances of aerosol generation, presence of droplets or contaminated fomites? Could employees infect your clean samples?

  • Have patients been tested for the presence of SARS-Cov-2 at the time of sample collection? What was the sensitivity of the assay?  Is there a chance of a false negative?  Is there any risk the sample has been mislabelled?

  • Do you need to label known infected samples clearly in the laboratory, or keep them in a separate freezer?

  • Is there a risk that positive samples could infect other samples, e.g. in liquid phase liquid nitrogen storage, or by cross contamination of cell lines due to poor aseptic technique?

  • Different sample types have been found to have varying viral RNA titres, e.g. blood < stool < respiratory material. Could your samples have live virus particles present and will your process remove this risk at some point?

  • Is the sample container secure, e.g. screw cap? Has the external surface been disinfected?

  • What personal protective equipment do you have and what are your biosafety controls in the laboratory?

  • Are your staff trained and competent in your standard operating procedures?

  • Have you got suitable waste disposal process?

Once assessed, ensure you continue to monitor and review your measures alongside the latest Governmental advice.  And just a final sanity check, would a SARS-Cov-2 infected sample impact your original dataset? Do you need to segregate your samples into two sets pre- and post-Covid-19?

As we continue to learn about this virus, its full effects and impact will not be realised for quite a while!

Sonia Houghton

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