CM PS Golay inaugurating the dedicated screening centre Credit: EastMojo image

Gangtok: Sikkim began Rapid Antigen Testing on Saturday at the state border check-post, while Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang inaugurated a centre devoted for Covid-19 at Rangpo Screening Centre.

The Rapid Antigen Testing is a new category of tests for the diagnosis of Covid-19 in the country which has been approved by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on June 24. Known as the Standard Q COVID-19 Ag kit, antigen detection test does not require any specialised machine. It can show results within 30 minutes and “can be interpreted with a naked eye”.

With this inauguration, Sikkim has joined several other states in the country to start Antigen Testing for Covid-19. Sikkim has imported 15,000 antigen test kits which has been developed by a South Korean biotechnology firm SD Biosensor. Each kit is based at a cost of ₹450. “The antigen test has been found to have a very high specificity with moderate sensitivity,” the medical body had said then.

Health Director General Dr Pempa Tshering Bhutia said, “The Rapid Antigen Testing will be done on returnees upon their arrival at the Screening Centre in Rangpo from today onwards. If any of the returnees test positive, they will be immediately sent to the isolation ward of STNM hospital, Gangtok. The returnees would be asked to wait until results come out so that they can be assessed and advised on further protocol. The Army and the paramilitary forces will also be tested and if their reports come out positive, they will be returned to their designated quarantine centres in West Bengal”.

Speaking with EastMojo, Dr Bhutia stated, “15,000 kit for now and we can order more, for now only in Rangpo screening centre, but the hospitals will focus on RT PCR itself. First phase of such testing will focus on borders as even the co-morbid patients can be tested first hand itself. The Chief Minister has even instructed that such tests need to be conducted in rural areas of the state with special focus on old age co-morbid patients, the same will follow in the second phase of such testing. This still is the first phase which should ease a lot of load on other forms of testing specially RT PCR testing at VRDL lab in STNM. Later, we could conduct such tests in District Hospitals as well as it does not require a lab or bio-safety cabinet”.

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Rapid Antigen testing also involves nasopharyngeal swab for testing. “Our lab technicians need hands on training, and they will be able to pull it off. Currently, we have 5 lab technicians who have been trained to carry out RAT at Screening Centre in Rangpo, we have two labs with two persons in each. Once they complete a week or 10 days, we will send next lot of lab technicians to rotate the workforce. It doesn’t need any expert nor an elaborate training, and they can get the hang of the testing in a few hours. Later when we fall short of lab technicians, we will equip other health workers as well to learn the process”, stated Bhutia.

The data for Rapid Testing will also be maintained in the ICMR portal. On the accuracy of the test, Dr Pempa maintained “For the negative results, we may have to send for re-testing but a positive result can be ascertained as positive and immediately sent to isolation ward for treatment. Other States may be conducting the test in hospitals and the labs but in terms of Rapid Testing at the borders, Sikkim may be the first one”, said Bhutia.

Even the ICMR has advised to use antigen kits along with the gold standard RT-PCR test. Suspected individuals who test negative for COVID-19 by rapid antigen test should be tested by RT-PCR to rule out the infection. While the positive test results should be considered as true positive and does not need reconfirmation by RT-PCR test, maintained the apex body on June 24.

According to the ICMR, this test should be conducted in the following settings:

1) All containment zones identified by the state governments

2) All central and state government medical colleges and government hospitals

3) All private hospitals approved by National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare (NABH)

4) All private labs accredited by National Accreditation Board for Laboratories (NABL) and approved by ICMR as COVID-19 testing labs.

Testing kits should be used for all symptomatic people with influenza like illness in containment zones or hotspots, asymptomatic direct and high-risk contacts with co-morbidities of confirmed cases, the ICMR had mentioned.

All hospitals, labs, state governments intending to perform the antigen test need to register with ICMR to obtain the login credentials for data entry. All data of testing needs to be entered into the ICMR portal on a real time basis. The portal has been modified to include a component on antigen testing, ICMR suggested on June 24.

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