At the Microbiology Department of the Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital in Faridkot, Dr Neerja Jindal and her team of 27 has been working overtime to test samples for coronavirus from around 8 districts from Punjab.
The lab started testing for Covid-19 on April 12 with 40 samples per day and now the daily testing has gone up to around 1000 samples. But the total testing capacity of the department, headed by Dr Jindal, stands at 3000 samples daily.
While till May 22, extraction of RNA (Ribo Nucleic Acid) was being done manually, the lab is now equipped with automated RNA extractor which has capacity to extract RNA of 3,000 samples in a day.
“RNA extraction is an important step in testing of samples for Covid-19 as if a sample has viral RNA, it is a positive sample, otherwise it is a negative sample. Manual extraction has its limitations and we could not process more than 500 extractions a day, but now we can handle a load of 3,000 as well,” said Dr Raj Bahadur, Vice-Chancellor, Baba Farid University and Health Sciences (BFUHS).
This machine was inaugurated on May 23 and its cost is Rs 1.5 crores. Staff of four faculty members, two senior resident doctors, a research assistant and about 20 technicians, including students are doing testing at GGSMCH without any break. Though the work happens in shifts.
RT-PCR, a popular test for testing Covid patients passes through five stages. Stage one is to give unique identity number to the sealed samples being brought from various districts throughout the day.
This department is on second floor of medical college and the first room just close to stairs is to check “triple layer packing” of samples, also to check if cold chain has been maintained or not and whether the number of samples are the same as told by the person who is bringing them . The samples come in sealed thermocol boxes. Next room is to give serial number to the samples and also to give receipt of the same to the client. Samples from Muktsar, Ferozepur, Fazilka, Bathinda, Faridkot, Moga and Mansa are tested routinely, while other cities can also send samples if their patients increase, said Dr Bahadur.
After the above two steps, the sample is ready to enter the lab for extraction of RNA.
On Friday, it was duty of Dr Vishal Sharma, Assistant Professor at Microbiology Department and Barun, a student in the medical lab technician department who went inside wearing PPE kits. First, samples were opened in bio-safety cabinets which were three in numbers.
The inside of lab with blue tiles on floor is air-conditioned. After opening the samples, pooling and line listing is done and in the meantime, the automated RNA extractor is readied by adding reagents. This preparation time is about 2 hours and next 80 minutes are taken for extracting RNA.
“The extracted RNA samples are taken to RT-PCR lab where another team is ready for loading these samples in the PCR machine. This takes another 90 minutes and results are read, passed on to the report generating department for data entry and also for emailing it to the concerned institutes,” said Dr Jindal.
When The Indian Express team visited the lab, a total of 787 samples were tested and all came negative. “We are equally concerned if reports are positive or negative. We started with 40 samples and till now have tested over 17,000 samples out of which 325 tested positive.”
Though after getting automated RNA extractor, this lab can test 3,000 samples in three batches of 1,000 each, but they have not crossed beyond 1000 till now. “Testing is done as per the samples received, we are ready, but samples also need to come,” said Dr Jindal.
Dr Raj Bahadur added,”We have asked district hospitals to send more samples, so we can also test our system and even mass sampling can also cover large population.”
The lab works in shifts of 8am-2pm and then from 2pm- 8pm. Emergency team is available on call in night as well, Dr Jindal said as she washed her hands and changed her mask.
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