Real-world SARS CoV-2 testing in Northern England during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic

Hamzah Z. Farooq*, Emma Davies, Benjamin Brown, Thomas Whitfield, Peter Tilston, Ashley McEwan, Andrew Birtles, Robert O'Hara, Hannah Spencer, Louise Hesketh, Shazaad Ahmad, Malcolm Guiver, Nicholas Machin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: SARS-CoV-2 emerged in South Asia in 2019 and has resulted in a global pandemic. Public Health England (PHE) Manchester rapidly escalated testing for SARS-CoV-2 in the highest COVID-19 incidence location in England. The results of the PHE Manchester SARS-CoV-2 surveillance during the first wave are presented.

Methods: Retrospective data were collected for patients fitting the PHE SARS-CoV-2 case definition from 11th February to 31st August 2020. Respiratory tract, tissue, faecal, fluid and cerebrospinal (CSF) samples were tested for SARS-CoV-2 by a semi-quantitative real-time reverse-transcription PCR.

Results: Of the 204,083 tests for SARS-CoV-2, 18,011 were positive demonstrating a positivity of 8.90%. Highest positivity was in nasal swabs (20.99%) followed by broncheo-alveolar lavage samples (12.50%). None of the faecal, fluid or CSF samples received were positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Conclusions: There was a high incidence of SARS-CoV-2 patients in the North-West of England during the first UK wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Highest positivity rate was in nasal specimens suggesting this is the optimum sample type within this dataset for detecting SARS-CoV-2. Further studies are warranted to assess the utility of testing faecal, fluid and CSF samples. Rapid escalation of testing via multiple platforms was required to ensure prompt diagnosis and isolate infected cases to reduce transmission of the virus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-91
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Infection
Issue number1
Early online date20 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to acknowledge the contributions of the staff of the Public Health England Manchester laboratory.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Novel coronavirus
  • Public health
  • SARS CoV-2


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