The introduction of rapid antigen test (RAT) in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly for testing incoming air and road passengers and for contact-tracing in containment zones, is proving to be a game changer in disease containment efforts in the Union Territory.
The RAT gives results within 15 minutes as against the RT-PCR, which normally takes at-least one to two days, creating difficulties both for the travellers and the administration due to the provision of mandatory quarantine for incoming passengers till their test results come out.
Since its introduction in Kashmir some eight days ago, the authorities have conducted some 87,334 RAT tests in comparison to 3, 61,770 RT-PCR tests conducted till September 01. Many of these rapid tests have been conducted on air and road travellers since it takes less time to give a result.
“Normally we are doing the antigen tests on 4,500 to 5,000 people daily, of which, around 1,200 are done at the airport. Others include land-travelers who are tested by our teams at various points on Srinagar-Jammu Highway, besides, there are people getting tested in containment zones and brick kilns,” said Dr Qazi Haroon, an officer on special duty with the health department to assist the government’s corona mitigation efforts in Kashmir division.
Jammu and Kashmir was among the first places in the country to make testing of incoming passengers mandatory, which was done using RT-PCR technique.
In Jammu division, Haroon’s counterpart, Dr A D S Manhas said that the RAT has been introduced in all the districts.
“Daily, we are conducting 6,000-7,000 antigen tests. Sometimes it goes up to 8,000. Similarly, 700-800 tests are conducted daily on air passengers,” Manhas said.
“It takes only 15 minutes for the results to appear and this has been a game changer owing to its speed,” he said.
Haroon said that the Antigen test has made the process easy and simple. “On Tuesday, we had 20 incoming flights including four international flights. With RT-PCR tests, we would have to quarantine them all and wait for their test results, which would take 3-4 days. Now, it takes 1.5 hours. Those who are negative are allowed to move immediately while those found positive are quarantined,” he said.
Haroon said that the authorities at the helm were earlier reluctant to introduce the rapid tests. “We had a lot of backlog for RT-PCR. It took time for the people at the helm to understand RAT’s efficacy. Now, it is everywhere,” he said.
He said it was also helping in contact tracing in red zones.
“Within 15 minutes you can know the positive or negative status of say 500 people, allowing a medical officer to immediately trace out the infected and stop them from spreading it further,” he said.
However, aware of the low-sensitivity drawback associated with rapid testing, Dr Haroon said the RT-PCR test is mandatorily used for those who are discharged from hospitals.
Prominent pulmonologist and head, chest medicine, government medical college, Srinagar, Dr Naveed Nazir Shah said that though RAT sensitivity was low as compared to RT-PCR, it was a good option for testing a large population.
“If we compare it with RT-PCR, its sensitivity is low but specificity is better. That means that if the test is positive, then the patient is indeed positive. But if the test is negative and the patient is showing symptoms, then the test has to be repeated using RT-PCR,” he said.
“However, for a large population, the rapidity of the Antigen test is a good thing,” Shah added.