Coronavirus | RT-PCR only confirmatory test, says government

Rapid antibody tests for epidemiological studies, surveillance in hotspots

The Union Health Ministry has said that the Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) is the gold standard frontline test for coronavirus (COVID-19) and that rapid antibody test cannot replace it.

The statement comes after the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s national taskforce issued guidelines on testing strategy to all States, following a review of the worldwide testing methodology.

“The Rapid Antibody Test gives us an idea about prevalence of disease in a particular area and thus is used for epidemiological studies and surveillance purpose in hotspots. It can also be used in districts which are not hotspots to study emerging trends,” Joint Secretary in the Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said on Saturday.

He added that data generated by surveillance through rapid testing can be used for contact tracing if any positive case arise in an area.

Presently the government is using the RT-PCR tests to detect novel coronavirus from samples of throat or nasal swabs of people with symptoms or high-risk individuals who might have come in contact with positive patients.

The Ministry has noted that to make all data of Rapid Antibody Test available for surveillance at State, district and national levels, an order has been issued to register in the portal: before conducting rapid antibody test, so that the information can be made available at all levels.

“Testing Strategy has been spelt out for when RT-PCR or Rapid Antibody Tests are to be done. Symptomatic individuals with travel history, symptomatic persons having contact with lab confirmed positive persons, symptomatic health care workers, SARI patients with fever, cough and/or shortness of breath and asymptomatic persons who have been in direct contact of high-risk confirmed cases are to be tested once between day 5 and day 14 of coming in contact with the confirmed positive person,” the directions said.

Mr. Agarwal explaining the algorithm/strategy being adopted by for COVID-19 testing in hot spot area noted that in hotspot areas, for persons having had fever, cough or cold for less than 7 days, RT-PCR test is to be done and then on basis of result, positive cases are to be given treatment and negative cases are to be taken as susceptible.

“In case of having had symptoms for more than seven days, Rapid Antibody Test is to be done and then if result is positive, person is to be kept in quarantine and contact tracing is to be done, and for negative results, persons are to be monitored for 14 days and if there is any clinical suspicion, then the case is to be monitored at clinical level and PCR test can be done if required,” he said.


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