India to start rapid antibody testing, but what is it?
Experts say that rapid antibody tests can indicate if someone has the novel coronavirus even if they are asymptomatic.
As the number of positive COVID-19 cases crossed 3000 in India, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has allowed rapid antibody testing in the contry. Experts believe that this measure will enhance our testing capabilities and help indentify clusters of the novel coronavirus affected.
Rapid antibody testing will be carried out on those living in COVID-19 hotspots or areas which have reported large numbers of cases. The ICMR in its interim advisory has recommended the use of the rapid antibody test in the country's coronavirus hotspots.
How's rapid antibody tesing is different from our current testing method?
Currently our health agencies use PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests to detect novel coronavirus from samples of throat or nasal swab of people with symptoms or individuals who might have come in contact with positive patients. It takes about five hours for the results to come out.
The rapid kits on the other hand are quicker in getting results. They use blood samples of suspected patients and usually takes around 15-30 minutes to give the result. Under this, one has to clean their finger with an alcohol swab and use the lancet provided for finger-pricks.
This move of allowing rapid antibody testing comes after reports of highly affected states like Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and others requested for this to get more people tested and to get quicker results.
Where will this be used?
The government had earlier identified 10 hotspots where COVID-19 clusters were suspected. These included Dilshad Garden and Nizamuddin Delhi, Noida and Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, Bhilwara in Rajasthan, Ahmedabad in Gujarat, Kasargod and Pathanamthitta in Kerala, Mumnai and Pune in Maharashtra.
As per Health Ministry officials, these rapid antibody tests is most suitable to detect whether the disease is spreading in the hotspots.
But with thousands of migrant workers returning to their native places since the lockdown, there is a possibility that a small section (3 out of 10, as per ICMR estimate) may have carried the virus. Which in turn, can create new hotspots. The rapids tests can be effective for quick testing in villages and indentifying new hotspots. These tests will be carried out in large migration gatherings or evacuee centres as well.
Experts say that antibody test doesn't always pick up early viral infection but they can indicate if someone has any particular virus even if they are asymptomatic. This type of test is important to check whether there in community transmission or not.
When will this be available?
However, the rapid tests have not started in India yet as we're in the process of buying the test kits for the entire country. According to India Today, India already has purchased around 5 lakh testing kits from USA, China and South Korea. ICMR has already given approval to a dozen such kits for Covid-19, which are likely to be available in the market soon.
Meanwhile Bengaluru-based Bione has developed India's first at-home testing kits which functions similarly.
Former Union home minister P Chidambaram hailed the decision saying that "according to some doctor this (ICMR's) decision was overdue".