– Professor Anne von Gottberg is one of South Africa’s leading specialists at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases

– Briefly.co.za interviewed the specialist who highlighted the importance of testing in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic

– This comes as South Africa braces for the high possibility of a resurgence in infections

Mass testing for COVID-19 still remains a powerful weapon in South Africa’s arsenal against the virus – despite lower rates of positive cases being reported across the country.

Professor Anne von Gottberg, one of the country’s leading specialists at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, believes the continuous roll-out of COVID-19 testing can help in identifying smaller cluster outbreaks early, preventing large-scale transmission of the virus.

Von Gottberg specialises in clinical microbiology and spearheads studies at the NICD’s Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis.

“If you don’t know who has the infection and who could be spreading it, you won’t know how to do contact tracing to try to minimise transmission. I think [testing is] becoming even more important now as the numbers are coming down. We have noticed that Europe and the United States are really focusing on testing, trying to limit further spread and transmission,” she said.

NICD specialist Professor Anne von Gottberg explains the importance of testing among the pandemic. Image: Department of Health, Tom Weller/picture alliance via Getty Images
Source: UGC

Explaining plainly the different types of tests currently being rolled out in SA, von Gottberg says there are those that “look for the virus” and those that “look for antibodies formed against the virus”.

“The one group of tests look for the virus and that’s where we do respiratory specimens. The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests look for genetic material from the virus and the Antigen tests look for the virus’s structural proteins. PCR tests and Antigen tests document the presence of the virus,” she explained.

“Serology tests look for antibodies. After an acute infection from the virus, these tests look for antibodies that we as individuals have formed against the virus and that happens only after 10 to 14 days after the acute infection.”

Von Gottberg says experts need to carefully monitor pockets of infections as a result of gatherings, especially over the festive season.

“This is going to be an ongoing job for all of us as infectious disease specialists and we have to pay careful attention as we start opening up. We need to monitor where people are at risk and then pick up when there are infections happening so we can help understand what is happening in SA,” she said.

“We need to realise that there are so many people working on a vaccine, so many countries, institutions and research groups. If there is going to be a safe vaccine, we are making sure it is going to be available in the future. We need to ensure the safety of the population that uses these vaccines.”

Earlier, Briefly.co.za reported that the Western Cape is experiencing a resurgence in Covid-19 infections.

Provincial Premier Alan Winde has revealed that the local government is considering drastic measures to limit the spread of the virus.

This included the possible implementation of a ‘mini’ lockdown in the region, with the notion currently under discussion.

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