Karnataka to increase rapid tests and optimise RT-PCR kits

Orders for procuring 30 lakh rapid antigen tests being placed

With an unprecedented surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, Karnataka is now planning to increase Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) from the existing less than 10% to over 30%.

This follows an advisory from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to all States to increase rapid tests as laboratories across the country are facing challenges to meet the expected testing targets due to extraordinary case load and staff getting infected with COVID-19.

Accordingly, the State’s COVID-19 ministerial task force headed by Deputy Chief Minister C.N. Ashwath Narayan that met on Tuesday gave an administrative nod to the Health Department to procure more RAT kits.

State to place orders

C.N. Manjunath, nodal officer for labs and testing in the task force, said the procurement committee of Karnataka State Drugs Logistics and Warehousing Society had decided to place orders for 30 lakh RAT kits.

He said in the current situation there is a shortage of RAT kits and hence orders had to be placed immediately.

“The State’s average test positivity rate (TPR) is hovering around 21%. Whenever the TPR is high, RAT is an important tool for immediate results. It will not only help in early detection but also in curbing transmission,” Dr. Manjunath said.

Curbing transmission

V. Ravi, nodal officer for genomic confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 in Karnataka, who is also part of the State’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), said with symptomatic patients being prime drivers of the infection in Karnataka, rapid tests will help cut transmission at an early stage.

RATs were recommended in India for COVID-19 testing in June 2020. However, the use of these tests is currently limited to containment zones and health care settings. RAT has a short turn-around time of 15-30 minutes and thus offers a huge advantage of quick detection of cases and opportunity to isolate and treat them early for curbing transmission, he said.

“Although Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) testing is the gold standard test that has negligible chances of false negativity, an unprecedented upsurge of cases and deaths has made it imperative to optimize RT-PCR testing and simultaneously increase the access and availability of testing to people,” Dr. Ravi said.

“If reports come early and if a person gets to know he/she has tested positive, tracking, tracing and isolation can be expedited. Rapid tests can be done at fever clinics where only those with symptoms report,” he said.

Mild illness

Explaining that nearly 80% of people have mild illness, Dr Ravi said: “People with mild illness assume they are asymptomatic. It all depends on how the patient’s history is recorded. Usually, patients with a strong immune system will be able to handle the virus and such patients will only have very mild symptoms, which they feel is not worth reporting and hence they are not recorded. A rapid test is useful in such patients.”

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