NEW DELHI: The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has written to all states asking them to use rapid antibody tests for surveillance in COVID-19 hotspots.
It underlined that the old standard frontline test for novel coronavirus diagnosis is a real-time PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) based molecular test, which is aimed at early virus detection.
In a letter to all chief secretaries and principal secretaries (health) of states, ICMR Director-General Dr Balram Bharagava listed the protocol for using the 'rapid antibody test' in hotspot area for epidemiological studies and surveillance.
India received five lakh rapid antibody testing kits from China on Thursday and these, health ministry officials, said are being distributed to states for districts with high burden of infection.
Chief of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases at ICMR Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar on Thursday had said that the rapid antibody test kits procured are not meant for early diagnosis, but "only for surveillance and trend checking".
"The National Task Force at the ICMR has carefully reviewed the data evolving from various countries on the use of such kits. Based on available evidences, the testing strategy for COVID-19 has been revised further," Bhargava said.
Stating it was critical to understand few key facts while using the rapid antibody tests, Bhargava said gold standard frontline test for COVID-19 diagnosis is real-time PCR based molecular test, which is aimed at early virus detection and the rapid antibody test cannot replace the frontline test.
"The rapid antibody test is a supplementary tool to assess the prevalence of the diseases within a specific area/perimeter. It will only be of utility after a minimum of seven days of onset of symptoms."
"Data about these rapid tests is emerging and understanding of their utility for diagnosis is still evolving. The rapid test kits are useful for epidemiological studies and surveillance purposes," he said.
The test has to be done under strict medical supervision.
In case, the state does not have a hotspot, these tests may be used for: any hotspot which may emerge in future or as a surveillance tool for epidemiological purpose in such areas where cases have not emerged so far, the ICMR said.
Before the rapid test, it should be registered in the COVI19cc.nic.in/ICMR and data related to the test should be reported on the same, he said.