Effective bubble-based testing for SARS-CoV-2 using swab-pooling

Yuval Cohen, Nadav Bamberger, Orna Mor, Ronen Walfisch, Shay Fleishon, Itay Varkovitzky, Asaf Younger, Danit Oz Levi, Yishai Kohn, David M. Steinberg, Danny Zeevi, Oran Erster, Ella Mendelson, Zvi Livneh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Despite the success in developing COVID-19 vaccines, containment of the disease is obstructed worldwide by vaccine production bottlenecks, logistics hurdles, vaccine refusal, transmission through unvaccinated children, and the appearance of new viral variants. This underscores the need for effective strategies for identifying carriers/patients, which was the main aim of this study. Methods: We present a bubble-based PCR testing approach using swab-pooling into lysis buffer. A bubble is a cluster of people who can be periodically tested for SARS-CoV-2 by swab-pooling. A positive test of a pool mandates quarantining each of its members, who are then individually tested while in isolation to identify the carrier(s) for further epidemiological contact tracing. Results: We tested an overall sample of 25 831 individuals, divided into 1273 bubbles, with an average size of 20.3 ± 7.7 swabs/test tube, obtaining for all pools (≤37 swabs/pool) a specificity of 97.5% (lower bound 96.6%) and a sensitivity of 86.3% (lower bound 78.2%) and a post hoc analyzed sensitivity of 94.6% (lower bound 86.7%) and a specificity of 97.2% (lower bound 96.2%) in pools with ≤25 swabs, relative to individual testing. Discussion: This approach offers a significant scale-up in sampling and testing throughput and savings in testing cost, without reducing sensitivity or affecting the standard PCR testing laboratory routine. It can be used in school classes, airplanes, hospitals, military units, and workplaces, and may be applicable to future pandemics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)859-864
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Microbiology and Infection
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Bubble
  • COVID-19
  • Capsule
  • Corona testing
  • Pool testing
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Swab pooling


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