The colonial-era Kasturba Gandhi Hospital was set up in 1892 for the treatment of infectious diseases. Since then, it has been witness to Mumbai’s several battles, big and small, against infectious disease outbreaks including smallpox, plague, H1N1. Right now, the hospital with its high-tech lab, is the beating heart of the city’s battle against Covid-19.
The lab is only 13 years old, initiated after the 2005 deluge in the city, when cases of leptospirosis spiralled. In April 2007, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation set it up as the city’s first port of call for the early detection and fighting of infectious diseases. Samples come from four tertiary care and 16 secondary care hospitals of Municipal Corporation of Mumbai and the tests are offered free of cost for patients. Over the years, it has tested for leptospirosis, chikungunya, dengue, H1N1, HIV.
Not surprisingly, Kasturba was the first hospital in the city to test swab samples for coronavirus when the outbreak began about four months ago. Between February and March end Kasturba PCR lab was the only lab testing for Covid-19, with samples coming from all the hospitals.
Almost 300 to 500 samples were tested per day during that period. Currently, Kasturba’s Polymerase Chain Reaction laboratory (PCR) gets around 500 to 700 samples per day for testing. Apart from testing, the laboratory has been designated by Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) for validations of new diagnostic kits including the antigen and the anti-body test kits.
“This is a flagship lab of the municipal corporation. It has been at the forefront in delivering quality services in molecular diagnosis, for early diagnosis of infectious diseases,” said
Dr Jayanthi Shastri, head of the laboratory.
The laboratory receives the nasal or oral swab samples of suspected Covid patients in Viral Transport Mediums (VTM) from various hospitals.
The RT-PCR (Reverse-Transcription-Polymerasehai Reaction) is the process of extracting RNA from the samples, reverse transcribing the DNA from it, and putting it in the machine with amplifying markers that can detect the virus in the DNA.
The results come up on the computer screen. A sigmoid curve means positive, a flatline means negative.
Apart from RT-PCR, the laboratory is also for antibodies and antigen tests. The Kasturba lab functions for 24 hours with 13 staffers, including lab director Dr Jayanthi Shastri and five technicians. Of the 13, three are dedicated for research work.
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