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ICMR expands norms to enable rapid antibody, antigen testing

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Tuesday expanded the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) testing norms, advising that all hospitals, offices and public sector units be enabled to conduct rapid antibody tests, and recommending the deployment of rapid antigen tests in all containment zones, and hospitals and private labs across the state.

While the antibody-based test can be used as a surveillance method to check if a person was infected by the Sars-CoV-2 virus at some point, tests through new “antigen” devices can be carried out on-site and provide results within 30 minutes. The rapid antigen tests were recently deployed in Delhi and have been hailed by experts for speeding up the test-trace-isolate process.

“It is advised to enable all government and private Hospitals, offices, public sector units etc. to perform the antibody-based testing. This will help in allaying the fear and anxiety of health care workers, office employees etc..,” a statement released by ICMR said.

“ICMR recommends deployment of the rapid antigen PoC (point of care) test in the following settings: i) All containment zones identified by the State Governments, ii) All Central & State Government Medical Colleges and Government hospitals, iii) All private hospitals approved by National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare (NABH), iv) All private labs accredited by National Accreditation Board for Laboratories (NABL) and approved by ICMR as COVID-19 testing labs,” India’s apex biomedical research body said.

The private sector welcomed the move. “We had raised the issue that we needed some clarity on whether we can perform antibody and antigen based tests. It’s good to know that government has come out with a revised advisory as it will be important to know how many have had exposure to the virus, especially in the health care sectors,” said Dr Anupam Sibal, group medical director, Apollo Hospitals.

Speaking about the efficacy of the rapid antigen test, Dr Navin Dang said: “Antigen testing is point of care testing for time is of essence in conducting an antigen based test. It has to be done within an hour so if offices or other places have been allowed which means booths will have to be set-up on site itself. It is doable but modalities will have to be worked out so as to not compromise the sanctity of a sample.”

An antigen is a molecule that induces an immune response within the body, especially the production of antibodies, and detecting its presence determines a present infection. Antigen-based tests ensure rapid diagnosis and they take about 30 minutes to present results, as opposed to nearly six hours taken by the RT-PCR test. It is a point-of-care test and does not require specialised laboratory facilities in terms of equipment, biosafety and biosecurity. It can be read through the naked eye without any specialised equipment.

The research body said that all the positive results for any kind of Covid-19 test must be registered. “All data of testing needs to be entered into the ICMR portal on a real time basis…,” the advisory said.

ICMR said in its statement that in an effort to ramp up testing capacity in the country, it has approved a total of 1,000 Covid-19 testing labs in public (730) and private (270) sectors. – Hindustan Times

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