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COVID-19 | Rapid Antibody Test ‘unreliable’, ICMR to issue fresh guidelines, says Union Health Minister

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Days after the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) asked states not to use the Rapid Antibody Test kits, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan today said the results of the test vary from place to place and that “it can’t be relied upon”.

“The results of the test vary from place to place and it can’t be relied upon. Moreover, WHO has also not commented on its accuracy. The ICMR is reviewing the efficacy of the test and the kits in its own labs and shall come out with fresh guidelines soon,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said during a video-conference with the Health Ministers of States and Union Territories on the Covid-19 situation.

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India recently procured around 5.5 lakh Rapid Antibody Test kits from two Chinese firms. Once states started using these kits, there have been reports of huge variations in results from several places. In fact, the ICMR has said that if these kits are not found up to the mark, replacements will be sought from the manufacturers.

Meanwhile, the two Chinese firms which supplied these Rapid Antibody Test kits have now said that they are ready to extend full cooperation to the Indian agencies who are examining the quality of these kits. Both companies have said that they follow strict quality control of their products and have underlined that specified guidelines need to be followed both in the storage and usage of these kits to get accurate results.

While the RT-PCR test uses throat or nasal swabs and takes around five to six hours to show results, the Rapid Antibody Test uses a blood sample and provides a result in 15 to 30 minutes.

In the past, the ICMR has clearly said that the Real-Time PCR based molecular test, commonly called the RT-PCR test, is the “gold standard frontline test” for Covid-19 diagnosis and that the Rapid Antibody Test cannot replace the frontline test.

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“The rapid Antibody test is a supplementary tool to assess the prevalence of the diseases within a specific area/perimeter,” the ICMR has said, adding that “the rapid antibody test will only be of utility after a minimum of 7 days of onset of symptoms”.

The ICMR has also said that data about these rapid tests is emerging and understanding of their utility for diagnosis is still evolving.

Most importantly, the ICMR has been reiterating that the rapid antibody tests are useful for epidemiological studies and surveillance purposes.

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