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Step up screening for acute respiratory illnesses aggressively, experts urge govt

According to health department officials, the man did not have a travel history or any known contact with a confirmed case.

Published: 02nd April 2020 06:45 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd April 2020 06:45 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: With the death of the 68-year-old in Pothencode suspected to be a case of community transmission, experts have warned the government to aggressively step up screening of patients with Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) symptoms across the state so as to check the spread of the virus in the community.

According to health department officials, the man did not have a travel history or any known contact with a confirmed case. He was not in quarantine, but came to the hospital with pneumonia symptoms. Had a screening campaign been in place for people with severe respiratory illness symptoms, the case could have been detected much earlier, point out virologists.

Health care experts have been repeatedly suggesting an aggressive surveillance campaign among people with acute respiratory illnesses, but the government is still focused on carrying out tests on those under quarantine. In the meantime, people outside the authorities’ radar may also contract the viral infection and even pass it on to others.    

Why is it necessary?
According to Dr E Sreekumar, senior scientist at Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, early identification of Covid-19 is very crucial. If identified early, it will help arrest the spread of the virus, he added. “For early diagnosis, we should either confirm presence of the virus or its nucleic acid. For this, no imported testing kit is required. The existing Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test would suffice. But the government should insist on conducting such tests on people who visit hospitals with severe respiratory illnesses,” he added.

‘Rapid tests not foolproof’
The government’s decision to use imported rapid test kits to check coronavirus spread may sound fanciful to some. But virologists say that other than indicating viral exposure, it is not a foolproof method for detecting Covid-19. They  say rapid testing kits will detect exposure to virus only after an antibody is formed against it. “The only advantage is that the result can be made available in 30 minutes. Though the antibody will be present in an individual, it may not be indicative of an active infection,” said senior scientist Dr E Sreekumar.

Norms revised

Those with mild sore throat, cough, rhinitis or diarrhoea will be included in category A

People with high-grade fever or severe sore throat or cough will be included under category B

Those with breathlessness, chest pain, drowsiness, fall in blood pressure, children with influenza-like illness with red flag signs, worsening of underlying chronic issues and others will be included under category C

In case of all symptomatic people from a locality where clustering of cases or community transmission were reported in the last 14 days, testing has to be done as per category B and C norms.

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