SCREENING TESTS: SCREENING ISN’T JUST FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASES
Contributors: Liangqi Ouyang, Meg Richardson
What Are Screening Tests?
Since the onset of the pandemic, many people have started to associate the words “screening” and “testing” with COVID-19 and the notorious nasal swab which is used to test for the virus. However, screening tests have a wide variety of other purposes in medicine, agriculture, the food industry, and other areas. Here is a look at some of the most common types of screening tests, how they work, and why they are important:
ATP Screenings: This type of test checks for the presence of ATP, a molecule that is present in all living cells. It can be found in everything from bacteria to mold to food residue to human skin. ATP testing has a variety of use cases. It is frequently used by the food industry as a way to check to see if facilities are sanitary. Swabbing a counter and looking for ATP in that sample will indicate whether cleaning processes are effective. If ATP is present in a sample, it could mean that there is organic matter which is invisible to the naked eye, but could be contaminating food. 1 ATP screenings are also used to ensure that water being used in cleaning processes is sanitary and free of organic material. This is particularly important for industries like brewing and dairy.2
Agricultural Screenings: Indoor farming is gaining popularity, especially in growing urban areas. This type of farming has a number of advantages. It can vastly cut down on the cost and environmental impact of transporting food. However, crops are grown in small areas without as much air circulation as would be present outside. As a result, there is a risk of bacteria, pests, and mold spreading quickly in indoor farms. Screening for these contaminants early and often can help indoor farmers nip problems in the bud and reduce the use of pesticides, which are often used preventatively. 3
DNA Screenings: These tests analyze variations at specific positions in a person’s genome. These variations can give information about a person’s ancestry and traits as well as their predisposition to certain genetic health conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease. Sometimes, when a person learns that they are at risk of developing a disease, they can make changes to their lifestyle which may be able to mitigate the impact of the disease.4
Toxicology Screenings: This is a test to check the level of legal or illegal drugs present in a person’s system. Usually a toxicology screening uses a blood or urine sample, though hair or saliva can be used as well. Toxicology screenings are performed for a variety of reasons. They are used by employers screening potential hires, in athletics to check for performance-enhancing drugs, in forensic analysis, in medical procedures, and in other contexts. 5
Microbiome Screenings: These tests analyze a fecal or other sample in order to gain information about the bacteria, fungi, archaea, and other microorganisms which make up a person’s microbiome. These tests are primarily focused on the gastrointestinal tract for now, though companies are also working on microbiome tests for other parts of the body. Doctors are gaining an understanding of how important the microbiome is for everything from synthesizing vitamins and amino acids to strengthening the immune system to affecting an individual’s mood. A microbiome screening can give a person information about the microorganisms present in their microbiome, and how they might improve their gut health and their overall health. 6
The Importance of Sample Collection Tools for Effective Screening Tests
In order for any of these types of screening tests to be effective, it’s essential that the correct type of collection materials are used. A swab or other collection tool needs to be able to accurately pick up material and then release it when that material needs to be analyzed. Collection tools must have different qualities based on what type of test is being performed, where a sample is coming from, and what characteristics a sample has. For example, a swab collecting a sample of microbes from a countertop would need to have very different characteristics than a swab collecting fecal matter from a toilet.
Sometimes, when improper sampling devices are used, labs are unable to perform tests and need to request samples again. This can be costly. It can also mean that information from tests is delayed. This can be avoided if sampling devices have proper flexibility, ergonomics, and other beneficial characteristics.
Screening tests are a part of innumerable industries. The best, most effective screening tests use the best materials. The world is safer and healthier thanks to screening tests. Next time you drink a beer or eat some lettuce that was grown indoors, take a minute to remember the power of screening tests.
1. “How Clean Is It? What ATP Can Tell You about the Safety of Your Food Handling Areas.” 3M Food Safety News, 4 June 2020 https://food-safety-news.3m.com/fsn/how-clean-is-it-what-atp-can-tell-you-about-the-safety-of-your-food-handling-areas/.
2. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Hygiena, 12 Aug. 2021, https://www.hygiena.com/frequently-asked-questions/.
3. “Monitoring Airflow in Indoor Farms with Kanomax Products.” Kanomax USA, 31 Mar. 2021, https://kanomax-usa.com/monitoring-airflow-in-indoor-farms-with-kanomax-products/.
4. About the 23andme Health + Ancestry Service – 23andMe … https://customercare.23andme.com/hc/en-us/articles/115013683107-About-the-23andMe-Health-Ancestry-Service.
5. Kiefer, Dale. “Toxicology Screen: Types, Samples, and Drugs.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 29 Jan. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/toxicology-screen.
6. “How Do You Test Your Gut Microbiome.” Healthy Gut Club, 4 Sept. 2021, https://www.healthygutclub.net/how-do-you-test-your-gut-microbiome/.