COVID-19: No more use of rapid test kits! ICMR issues latest advisory to States and UTs; details here

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Updated: April 28, 2020 12:28 PM

The decision comes after several states had complained that the rapid test kits imported from China were providing faulty results.

On April 4, the ICMR had issued an advisory to start rapid tests in high density settings.Rapid test kits could provide its results in less than 30 minutes.

COVID-19: No more use of rapid test kits in India, says Indian Council of Medical Research in its latest advisory! An advisory issued by ICMR to Chief Secretaries of all States and UTs advocates that RT-PCR throat/nasal swab test is the best use for COVID-19 diagnosis. Further, the advisory highlights that RT-PCR test detects the virus early. Therefore, this is the best strategy to identify and isolate the individual. Noting that several States have procured rapid antibody test kits and on their demand, ICMR has also provided these kits with clear instructions that they are to be used only for the purpose of surveillance purpose. However, with some states raising concerns in the context of their performance during the testing exercise that were undertaken, ICMR re-evaluated the kits of Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech and Zhuhai Livzon Diagnostics in field conditions. Seeing that the results have shown wide variation in their sensitivity, despite its initial promise of good performance for surveillance purposes, ICMR has now advised states to stop using these kits altogether.

The ICMR on Monday said that the rapid test kits have failed quality checks and will be returned to the suppliers, IE has reported. The decision comes after several states had complained that the rapid test kits imported from China were providing faulty results. The decision to rely on rapid test kits came after the success of the China-South Korean model which relied extensively on the rapid test mechanisms to test the huge population for Covid-19 in record time. In contrast to the classic RT-PCR tests which takes around 8-9 hours to declare the test result, rapid test kits could provide its results in less than 30 minutes.

Difference between RT-PCR and rapid tests explained

The method of the RT-PCR and rapid tests are also completely different. RT-PCR test is conducted on the swab sample taken from the patient’s nasal and throat tract whereas in rapid tests simple blood samples are collected to conduct serological tests. However, health bodies including the World Health Organisation have preferred RT-PCR conventional tests over rapid testing because the former gives almost 100% accurate results while the latter might provide faulty results in many cases. This is because rapid tests look for the presence of antibodies which may or may not have developed in sufficient quantity in the blood samples of the patients.

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Development of the antibodies against the disease depends on various factors including age, nutritional status of the patient as well as the severity of the disease. On the other hand, RT-PCR tests screen the nasal or throat swab to trace the presence of a virus. Another test is conducted to test whether the virus in the blood samples is indeed the novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV2.

While announcing its decision to roll back rapid testing for now, ICMR also mentioned the high rate of inaccurate results. States have complained that the rapid test results in cases of confirmed Covid-19 cases are giving inaccurate results ranging from 6-71 per cent, Dr R R Gangakhedkar, head of epidemiology and infectious diseases at the ICMR was quoted as saying by IE. He also said that the test kits which were supplied to the states had been produced in less than 3 months and needed refinement before their use.

WHO also remained skeptical of the efficacy of the rapid tests and said before recommending the use of rapid test kits, their efficacy should be validated in appropriate populations and settings. It further said that the faulty results of the test kits can seriously jeopardise the efforts of the countries to check the spread of Covid-19

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