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Real time PCR test vs Anti-body test: What is India’s coronavirus testing strategy?

Know about the difference between the two types of tests, RT-PCR and Rapid Antibody Test, that India is employing to diagnose coronavirus in people

India TV News Desk India TV News Desk
New Delhi Updated on: April 18, 2020 18:01 IST
A laboratory technician from Dr Dangs Lab displays a
Image Source : PTI

A laboratory technician from Dr Dangs Lab displays a coronavirus testing tube during the nationwide lockdown in New Delhi (file photo)

The National Test Task Force, a body under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has come out with a new order on the methodology of testing of suspected coronavirus patients in India, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare revealed at its daily press briefing on Saturday.

Luv Agarwal, the joint secretary at the ministry, said that Real-Time PCR Test (RT-PCR) remained the gold standard frontline test for the government, which could provide sure-shot confirmation if a person had been infected with the coronavirus.

According to a government document, the need for being tested depends on the following criteria:

  • All symptomatic individuals who have undertaken international travel in the last 14 days
  • All symptomatic contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases.
  • All symptomatic health care workers
  • All patients with Severe Acute Respiratory illness (fever and cough and/or shortness of breath)
  • Asymptomatic direct and high-risk contacts of a confirmed case should be tested once between day 5 and day 14 of coming in his/her contact.

If a person tests positive in the test, then they are officially recorded in the tally of those infected. If found negative, then the person is marked in the ‘susceptible’ category, as per the government.


Rapid Anti-body test

Throwing light on the employment of the rapid anti-body test in checking for a coronavirus infection, Agarwal said that these tests could only be conducted if a person has been exhibiting symptoms for at least seven days. This is because that anti-bodies take at least seven days to form within the human body, he explained. 

If the symptoms of fever, cold, cough or fever are detected within seven days, then RT-PCR tests are advised, said Agarwal.

Agarwal noted that the government was employing the rapid antibody test mainly for surveillance and epidemiological purposes, rather than as definite proof of a person being infected with the coronavirus. He said that the government has asked the medical authorities to employ the use of rapid antibody tests in ‘hotspot’ areas or localities that could emerge as ‘potential hotspots’.

If the rapid anti-body test comes out to be positive, the person should ideally go into quarantine for the next seven days and visit the hospital. If the test returns negative results, on the other hand, the person is still advised to be in a seven-day quarantine since they would still be in a 'hotspot' area.

The primary purpose of the rapid antibody test is to check the prevalence of a disease in an area, said the official.

Also read: 23 states, UTs affected by Tablighi Jamaat coronavirus link; Tamil Nadu worst sufferer

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