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Explained: What is the ‘rapid test’ Kerala is rolling out for Covid-19 exposure?

To tackle suspicions of whether the novel coronavirus has spread into the community and if not prevent such a scenario, the Kerala government has announced ‘rapid tests’ that will ensure speedy results within half an hour. Who all should take it? How will it be conducted? We Explain.

Written by Vishnu Varma , Edited by Explained Desk | Kochi |
Updated: March 30, 2020 7:04:01 pm
coronavirus, coronavirus test, how to test coronavirus, coronavirus rapid test kerala, coronavirus rapid test kit, kerala coronavirus cases, new test coronavirus kerala, kerala covid 19 test, express explained coronavirus Even though a rapid test can be extremely helpful to check for community transmission during a global pandemic such as this, it is not a confirmatory test for SARS-CoV-2 that causes the coronavirus infection. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Over the last five days, Kerala’s health department reported 93 positive cases of novel coronavirus, taking the total number of infected to 202 since February and heightening fears of community transmission of the virus in the state. Of the 202 infected, 21 persons have been discharged after complete recovery with the rest under treatment in isolation at hospitals. Around 1.4 lakh people have been ordered to stay under home quarantine and are being monitored regularly.

To tackle suspicions of whether the novel coronavirus has spread into the community (for which the Union government has now announced that it will expand testing) and if not prevent such a scenario, the Kerala government has announced ‘rapid tests’ that will ensure speedy results within half an hour. The government has received approval of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in this regard. The health department, in a statement released late Sunday, said the testing will be done using kits approved by ICMR and National Institute of Virology, Pune. (You can also read our interview with  Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan on how he’s tackling the spread of Covid-19)

So what is the ‘rapid test’ for Coronavirus?

Essentially, a rapid test is conducted to determine whether there has been any kind of recent viral infection in a person’s body. When a pathogen enters a human body, specific antibodies are released as a response to the virus. A rapid test can detect the presence of such antibodies in blood, serum or plasma samples quickly, indicating a viral infection. Rapid testing is conducted usually to check for community transmission of a virus during an epidemic.

According to the health department, it is a simple test that can be done with a person’s blood sample and will give out results within 10-30 minutes. It is also a low-cost test.

An Expert Explains: What would be an adequate number of tests for any country?

What does the ICMR say on rapid tests?

Even though a rapid test can be extremely helpful to check for community transmission during a global pandemic such as this, it is not a confirmatory test for SARS-CoV-2 that causes the coronavirus infection.

The ICMR guidelines released on March 28 clearly say the rapid antibody kits are not recommended for diagnosis of coronavirus infection. It can only be a preliminary screening test. “Positive test indicates exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Negative test does not rule out Covid-19 infection,” the guideline says. The person still has to be subjected to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for confirmation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A rapid test comes positive after 7-10 days of viral infection and remains positive for several weeks after that.

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So what does Kerala’s health department plan to do?

In a release, the health department said rapid tests can be used to conduct screening within the community and identify those with suspected infection, put them under observation and if required, subject them to the PCR test for coronavirus confirmation. It plans to acquire as many rapid antibody kits as possible from ICMR-NiV and begin to use them, especially on those under quarantine in areas like Kasaragod district which has reported 80 of the 181 active cases. The situation in Kasaragod is critical than in other districts and has been met with stricter lockdown measures by the administration.

Who can conduct rapid tests?

Government and private labs, that have the approval of ICMR, can conduct rapid tests. It requires a doctor’s prescription too.

Should you undergo a rapid test?

Those with a history of recent foreign travel, people who may have had contact with foreign returnees, health workers who maintain close contact with Covid-19 patients, residents of a region reporting higher-than-usual cases of respiratory illness and those who have recovered from such respiratory illnesses can undergo rapid tests, the state health department said. We have a detailed Explained on who should get tested. Click here to read it

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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