Blood sample tests for those not having coronavirus

Blood sample tests for those not having coronavirus
New Delhi, March 28(AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 3/28/2020 11:56:11 AM IST

India will soon start testing blood samples of people who do not have symptoms of the coronavirus disease in an attempt to find the scale of the outbreak.

The Indian Council of Medical Research, which is overseeing the country’s testing regime, is procuring 10 lakh kits for these serological tests. “We will start [testing] as soon as we get the kits,” said Nivedita Gupta, a senior scientist at the ICMR.

These testing kits will not be used by the ICMR for diagnostic purposes. To identify active Covid-19 patients, India employs the RT-PCR or reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction test on nasal or throat swab samples of suspected patients. The RT-PCR tests look for the presence of the virus in the DNA.

In comparison, serological tests identify disease-fighting antibodies in the blood, and are useful to map the spread of the virus among those who may not have shown any symptoms at all.

Rajni Kant Srivastava, director of the ICMR’s Regional Medical Research Centre, said the serological tests would be done as part of a study “to check the prevalence of Covid-19 among asymptomatic people”.

Nivedita Gupta explained: “Right now we don’t know what is the spectrum of the disease - how many people would be there in our community who have been infected but never had symptoms. This is the way to find that out.”

In 2017, the National Institute of Epidemiology did a similar survey to gauge the extent of dengue in India. The survey was done in 240 clusters - 118 of them rural and the rest urban - across 60 districts in 15 states.

Two villages formed a rural cluster while two municipality wards formed an urban cluster. The 240 clusters were randomly selected using an Android programme.

The survey findings indicated that 49% of India’s population had been previously infected by the dengue virus.

On March 27, the ICMR released guidance for the use of rapid antibody testing kits in India, which said “positive test indicates exposure to SARS-CoV-2” but “negative test does not rule out COVID-19 infection”. 

This is what makes the serological tests less reliable compared to the RT-PCR test for the purpose of diagnostics, that is, confirming whether a person is infected. The guidance says the kits are “not recommended for diagnosis of COVID-19 infection”.

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