As the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak has infected more than 5,50,000 people worldwide so far, causing almost 25,000 deaths, India has upped its preparedness to tackle the deadly Chinese virus outbreak in the country. In a first, the country is all set to start an antibody test to check if a person had previously been infected with the virus.
Also known as a serological test, this test will look for antibodies in the blood. The test will allow doctors to confirm if previously the patient had the Covid-19 virus present in their body. It will help in understanding the epidemiology of Covid-19 in the country.
This will, however, not be similar to the diagnostic tests that determine the infection by nasal or throat swabs. Right now, the NHS tests for Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – is done through a diagnostic technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) which detects the virus’s genetic material in oral or nasal swabs. It’s highly effective, but it only returns a positive result when the virus is still present in the body. Serological testing, meanwhile, will tell us how many people crossed paths with the coronavirus weeks or even months ago, sometimes even inadvertently.
Our body’s adaptive immune response identifies foreign material and creates antibodies specific to them. These complex proteins then attract immune cells to deal with the invaders. Antibodies remain in the blood even after an infection has been cleared, which leaves lasting evidence of the infection. With the latest serological test, a person’s blood serum will be tested with specialized antibodies to detect the presence of COVID-19 antibodies.
According to reports, this method is effective at spotting infection in as little as three days after exposure. If rolled out successfully, this blood test could show us how many people have been infected by COVID-19 even if they never developed symptoms. With more accurate data, we could figure out how dangerous the virus actually is and also evaluate the effectiveness of the new vaccines on the horizon.
The tests that have been done on random samples suggest that there is no community transmission so far in India and with the help of serological tests, the researchers will be able to understand the behaviour of the virus.
Chairman of the high-level expert committee formed to review the testing strategy for Covid-19 by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Randeep Guleria, speaking to Economic Times, said that the test is not confirmatory and it is for surveillance to generate data and check if people got exposed to the virus.
ICMR officials have said that these tests can be done on a mass scale at an affordable price. However, they are contemplating if these tests should be conducted on people who have come in contact with the Coronavirus infected people.
For carrying this out successfully, ICMR will require 1 million test kits for the country, it said.
The ICMR invited bids on Wednesday for the antibody kit for diagnosis of Covid-19.
India has confirmed a total of 860 coronavirus positive cases and 19 people have succumbed to the virus as of 7.15 pm on March 27 (Friday).