Antibody or rapid testing not effective in identifying COVID-19: top health officials
Posted on April 7th, 2020

Courtesy Adaderana

It has been decided that all persons who undergo the quarantine process at quarantine centers will be subjected to a Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, said Specialist Physician Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

He mentioned this speaking at a special live discussion telecasted on TV Derana on overcoming the COVID-19 challenge together. The discussion was joined by Specialist Dr. Amal Harsha De Silva, Deputy Director-General of Health Services, Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara, Director of Medical Research Institute of Sri Lanka, Prof. Neelika Malavige, Director of Centre for Dengue Research and Specialist Physician Prof. Arjuna de Silva.

During the discussion, the medical professionals focused on the importance of testing, testing procedures and on the various methods of testing recommended on social media.

According to Prof. Malawige, antibody testing or rapid testing is not effective in identifying the COVID-19 virus in a person’s body. 

She pointed out that the coronavirus is different from a dengue virus and the antibody generation against the COVID-19 virus inside a body takes at least 10 since the infection. Therefore, the blood sample may test negative if tested before 10 days have passed, providing inaccurate results. 

Thereby, PCR testing is the recommended and accepted method of testing for the coronavirus. However, rapid testing can be used for other purposes such as contact tracing, she added.

Drive-through testing, as seen in South Korea and Dubai, also utilizes the PCR testing method. Drive through testing is useful in certain ways that it could prevent the infection spreading in hospitals and to effectively utilize PPE gear as there is a shortage of such protective gear in the world, said Prof. Arjuna de Silva. 

Although there may not be issues with the [PCR] machines in the country, inaccuracies may occur due to sensitivity issues over errors in sample handling, says Prof. Neelika Malwige. Therefore, the sample quality and the method of transferring the samples to the laboratory is important in accurately testing a sample.

Meanwhile, in order to re-open the country, further, expanded testing is needed. Yet, the country is currently lacking in resources to carry out a large amount of testing within a short period, said Dr. Amal Harsha De Silva.

Specialists’ calculations have estimated that at least 5000 tests should be carried out per day. However, there is an issue of practicality, pointed out Prof. Arjuna de Silva. 
However, the districts that indicate no issues can be opened for activity within the district after proper testing, he added. The chancellors of the 6 medical faculties have written to President with a plan to systematically reopen the country.

Prof. Malawige said, Currently, Sri Lanka has the ability to carry out about 1500 tests through the 7 PCR machines. By next week, the Colombo, Kelaniya, Rajarata, KDU and Karapitiya medical faculties can easily commence testing.

If PCR machines of medical faculties and the private health sector are utilized, 3000 single-sample tests can easily be carried out per day.” 

Sample pooling can further increase the capacity, added Dr. Amal Harsha De Silva.

Lack of proper protective gear, such as N95 masks, for persons who carry out the testing, has also slowed down the testing process.

Local manufacturers of N95 masks can test if their products are up to standard through the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC), noted Prof. Malawige.

The N95 masks should be there for the use of persons who work in testing laboratories, Intensive Care Units or directly handle patients. The surgical masks should be used by healthcare workers, patients or persons who take care of the patients. The general public, need not wear N95 mask and may use homemade cloth masks, unless infected or is showing COVID-19 symptoms, according to Prof. Arjuna de Silva.

The reason why only a few deaths are reported from Sri Lanka while thousands die in other countries, is the effective measures taken by the health ministry, security forces and other authorities in order to curtail the spread of the virus, says Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara.

However, a limited number of individuals without discipline have infected by socializing and not following protocol, he added. 

If a person fears that they might have contracted the infection what they should do is call ‘1390’ and follows the instructions instead of visiting a hospital immediately. Further, not withholding information on your condition from the doctor is vital in this situation.

Although there are many test kits or equipment recommended to combat COVID-19 through social media, they have not been tested practically for their validity; their effectiveness is only calculated on paper, points out Dr. Jayaruwan Bandara.

Meanwhile, Prof. Malawige added that the Nawinna Ayurveda Research Center has approached her with a scientifically developed method to combat the virus and she has agreed to conduct research on this solution as well.

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