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ICMR plans pan-India survey to determine exposure of population to coronavirus

'Sero-survey' involves testing of blood serum of people to check for the prevalence of antibodies against coronavirus infection.

Published: 10th July 2020 09:02 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th July 2020 10:10 AM   |  A+A-

Representational Image. (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: The Centre on Thursday announced that another round of pan-India sero-surveillance in order to assess the spread of coronavirus is being planned even as full report of the previous sero survey carried out in May is yet to be released.

Rajesh Bhushan, Officer on Special Duty in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Thursday said the report from the previous study is under ‘peer review’ and a fresh survey is being planned now as the last one gave the status of infection spread till April.

Sources in the National Institute of Epidemiology under the ICMR, which has led the survey, however, said the paper has not been approved for publishing by the Council yet despite several reminders and is still to be submitted to the Indian Journal of Medical Research. 

This indicates that the paper would not have reached the peer review stage yet. ICMR DG Dr Balram Bhargava could not be contacted to comment on this despite repeated attempts.

The last sero survey was carried out in mid-May in two parts — one in 83 districts across 21 states, categorised on the basis of zero, low, medium and high case loads; and the other in the containment areas in 10 worst affected districts.

Sero survey involves testing blood serum from representative samples to check for antibodies against the virus.

Last month, Dr Bhargava had said the preliminary analysis of the first part of the survey showed less than 1 per cent of the population in non-hotspot districts had been infected.

Since the survey was done in late April and IgG antibodies usually appear two to three weeks after the infection, it’s estimated that the results showed the infection prevalence rate of April-end.

No finding from the second part of the survey has, however, been released.

This newspaper had reported that 15-30 per cent of the samples tested from many containment areas in hotspot districts were found to have antibodies against SARS CoV 2, suggesting that the viral exposure was much higher than actually detected cases.

Asked if India has entered the community transmission phase, Bhushan said on Thursday: “Even today, the health minister clearly said after the group of ministers’ meeting that India has not reached the stage of community transmission. In some geographical areas, there have been localised outbreaks.”

He underlined that 80 per cent of the active case load is concentrated in 49 districts.

“In a country of more than 733 districts, if 49 districts account for 80 per cent cases, then it is not justifiable to talk about community transmission,” he said.

He also stressed that if the prescribed protocol is followed, close contacts of active cases can be traced and tracked in three days and hence, “talking about community transmission is not justified”.

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