Thiruvananthapuram, March 29, 2020: Kerala which was the first state to report the coronavirus pandemic in the country began a pilot project of rapid tests that will help detect the virus quickly and curb its spread effectively as Indian grapples to stop the possible onset of community transmission.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Saturday gave the go ahead for the rapid tests. The pilot project will be carried out in two districts, worst-hit Kasargod and Pathanamthitta, health officials said.
One hundred and eighty two people have tested positive for coronavirus so far. Seventeen of them have been released after recovery while one person has died.
Health experts say the rapid test which involves blood samples instead of swab sample of the patient, is quick and much cheaper with greater reach but its results are not final. In the new test, results can be available in 45 minutes to 2 hours, instead of present 24 to 36 hours schedule.
Rapid test cost between Rs 500 to Rs 1000 and is much cheaper than the present testing method that cost between Rs 3500 to 5000. Experts say in rapid tests, blood samples can be taken by a nurse unlike swab which is usually collected by an expert.
They say in suspected cases blood can be taken at the bedside unlike the swab collection which requires closed enclosure and other strict requirements. Tests can be done massively in an area that reported widespread acute respiratory infections and it is good for health professionals and other high-risk groups who can keep a regular check of their health condition.
“This can’t be used as a primary diagnostic test. It can be used to detect prevalence of the virus in a limited manner. There are chances of person in incubation period being tested positive. So positive cases will have to be reconfirmed by taking swab samples again. But after rapid tests we can isolate possible carriers quickly,” said Dr Amar Fettle, state nodal officer for infectious diseases.
“We have to go by the WHO guideline of test, test, test. We have been telling the government for quite some time. Rapid tests can help increase our surveillance and spot new cases outside the pool of quarantined and imported ones. It is high time the state to step up its medial infrastructure,” said Dr Sreejth N Kumar, a senior IMA functionary and health activist.
Experts say the state is entering the next phase of surveillance against a possible community spread of the virus. They say when people started testing positive outside the quarantined pool - other than persons with travel history and their primary and secondary contacts - it will be the indication of community transmission.
In Kerala at least two such cases have come to light. Unlike the affected countries like US, UK and Italy where cases exploded in the community quickly, Kerala can redraw its strategies by closely monitoring the ground situation, experts say.
The state health department has released an interim treatment guideline to deal with Covid-19 patients. According to the guideline, patients have been categorized into three segments - A to C- depending various stages of infection.