As the novel coronavirus began to engulf the world, it wasn’t just COVID-19 vaccines and drugs making the round but also the testing procedures. Especially, when we are hearing about so many false negative and false positive cases on social media, it becomes quintessential to know more about the corona test procedure in India.

The Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction or the RT-PCR tests has been prescribed as the main standard testfor coronavirus testing for the novel coronavirus. However, as the coronavirus cases in India began to increase at an unprecedented scale, the Health Ministry also allowed a set of other tests to further increase coronavirus testing in the country.

Besides increasing testing facilities and testing kits, Indian Council of Medical Research has now also allowed other testing procedures besides RT-PCR, such as TrueNat, antibody and antigen tests and CBNAAT to further ramp up coronavirus testing in India.

To better understand, “How doctors test for corona?” we take a deeper look at various types of corona tests, corona test procedure in India and explore how long does it take to get coronavirus test results in India.

Various COVID-19 tests and corona test procedure in India

RT-PCR

Indian Express reports that RT-PCR tests are currently the most reliable as well as the more widely used test procedure for COVID-19 not just in India but across the world. RT-PCR tests directly check for the presence of the novel virus itself rather than the subsequently developed antibodies.

RT-PCR test procedure for COVID-19 involves converting an RNA to a DNA and hence the term, reverse transcription.  It checks a patient’s sample for the presence of coronavirus’ RNA and is particularly useful for early detection of coronavirus infection among asymptomatic patients.

RT-PCR

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Doctors collect sample using swabs from the back of the patient’s throat and deep inside their nose and then treat the samples with certain chemical solutions to remove fats and proteins. This leaves them with the isolated RNA which is further subjected to a dedicated RT-PCR machine that tests the sample for virus’s RNA.

However, in a major pitfall of the RT-PCR coronatest, the testing procedure reportedly gives a false negative result in almost 30% of the cases. Clinical laboratories conducting RT-PCR tests usually can take around six to eight hours to give corona results.

However, given the logistics involved in case the sample needs to be sent to a laboratory in another city, a patient may have to wait for a couple of days before they can get their final corona report. A single RT-PCR test in India will typically cost you somewhere around Rs. 2,200 to Rs 3,0000 as per the latest ICMR price caps for corona tests.

TruNat tests

TruNat tests

Notably, TruNat test also works on the same principles as the RT-PCR test and is widely used to detect HIV and tuberculosis. TruNat testing kits costs around Rs 1,300 and can deliver results within an hour’s time.  Notably, it also relies on nasal and oral swabs and a chip-based, portable TruNat machine. The dedicated TruNat machine detects a particular enzyme called the RdRp enzyme which is also found in the coronavirus’ RNA.

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Rapid antibody tests

Rapid antibody tests are being conducted to better understand the extent of coronavirus infection within a certain community. Notably, these tests are considerably faster and inexpensive as compared to the RT-PCR technique.

This coronavirus testing procedure includes collecting blood samples by pricking a person’s finger. Then, the blood is tested for the presence of specific antibodies that our immune system develops against the novel coronavirus, namely IgM andIgG antibodies which are respectively found at the initial and later stages of infection, rather than the virus itself.

Rapid antibody tests

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However, due to the large possibilities of false positives in this case, any patient who tests COVID-19 positive in the rapid antibody test also needs to take a confirmatory RT-PCR test before starting treatment for coronavirus.

ICMR has also said that the rapid antibody tests for coronavirus should be limited tosero-surveys and that too in particular cases such as police and paramilitary personnel, migrants and residents in densely populated regions or containment zones. The test hardly takes in between in 20-30 minutes to give results and usually costsaround Rs 500 – Rs 600.

Rapid antigen tests

The term ‘antigen’ medically refers to a toxin that triggers certain immune response in the body. Moreover, while the rapid antigen tests are often confused with rapid antibody tests, it actually tests a patient for theCOVID-19 virus itself rather than for the consequently developed antibodies.

Rapid antigen tests

Collecting nasal samples through cotton swabs, rapid antigen testing procedure tests an individual for the specificantigens found in the novel coronavirus responsible for the currentpandemic. The testing procedure takes around half an hour to deliver results. Following the ICMR approvals, rapid antigen tests are now widely conducted in Indiausing the S D Biosensor’s antigen detection kits which costs Rs 450 per kit.

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But, while all the above tests are being used by doctors to test individuals for coronavirus, RT-PCR is still considered a more reliable COVID-19 testing procedure in India. Additionally, despite many clarifications from the heath care bodies, credibility and purpose of other tests remain highly misunderstood. It is important to remember that other forms of tests especially the rapid antibody tests are only meant for surveillance purposes.