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What is rapid antibody test that India has cleared for Covid-19 and how it will help

In episode 436 of #CutTheClutter, Shekhar Gupta explains the process involved in rapid antibody tests and new experiments related to plasma therapy.

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New Delhi: The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has allowed rapid antibody tests for Covid-19 in India. They will be carried out in highly affected areas on people showing influenza-like symptoms. These tests are relatively cheap as compared to the RT-PCR test, which is currently the standard test being carried out in the country. It costs Rs 4,500 to get an RT-PCR test done for Covid-19 in private labs. An antibody test costs approximately Rs 300, but the government will be doing these free of charge.

RT-PCR test only works on DNA, hence an RNA viruses like Covid-19 is first converted to DNA, which makes the process time-consuming. An antibody test, on the other hand, can give results in 15 minutes. Highly affected areas need to be tested much more and that’s why rapid antibody tests are suitable. While they are quick and inexpensive, the most important factor is that it doesn’t take a specialist to perform the test.

The test is done by pricking a finger and putting some blood in it. It is similar to a pregnancy test. There is a control line, a G line which indicates IgG (Immunoglobulin G) antibodies, an M line that indicates IgM (Immunoglobulin M) antibodies and a negative line, which means there are no antibodies. The immune system produces IgM antibodies in the initial stages of infection and IgG at later stages. When enough number of people are infected, perhaps people with IgG antibodies can be given recovery certificates and they can travel freely. 

The distinction between IgM and IgG antibodies is not being made in India. Not all approved test kits in India tell the distinction between IgG and IgM antibodies. Additionally, private labs aren’t allowed to perform antibody tests yet. However, it is a step forward for ICMR.

Also read: Lucknow’s cantonment area sealed off after 12 Tablighi attendees test positive for Covid-19

Plasma Therapy 

A hospital in Orange County in California is performing an experimental treatment for Covid-19 called Convalescent Plasma Therapy (CPT).

IgG antibodies from a recovered patient are injected in an infected one in this treatment. CPT has been used for diphtheria and measles. 

US FDA has approved plasma therapy in emergency situations, protocols for dosage aren’t clear and evidence of it working is anecdotal and very little. In China, five Covid-19 patients on ventilators, showed no signs of the virus after six days of receiving plasma therapy. Trials for this therapy have already begun and data will start coming from around the world. 

As more patients recover, there will be more plasma available, and plasma donation from one patient can be used to help four other patients. The American Red Cross has been given the responsibility of collecting this plasma as they have experience with blood donations. 

BCG vaccine 

A recent paper had shown a correlation between Covid-19 infections and countries with BCG in their universal vaccination programs. There does seem to be a correlation between the two. Countries who have given the BCG vaccine appear to be infected less than those who haven’t. In an interview that immunologist Dr Gobardhan Das of JNU gave to ThePrint’s Jyoti Malhotra, he explained why BCG vaccine may be giving some protection against coronavirus. He gave the example of Spain, which has had 1,30,000-plus cases whereas Portugal has had only 11000-plus. Das argued that Portugal may have been protected by its BCG vaccination program.   

Watch the latest episode of CTC here:

Also read: China’s mask diplomacy during coronavirus pandemic reveals its two global faces


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