A new 15-minute COVID-19 test has been launched in Thailand aimed at increasing the number of people being screened for the deadly virus and easing the burden on the health system.
Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok rolled out the rapid kit this week hoping it will help to quickly identify people with the illness.
Coronavirus cases rose sharply in Thailand in March, with panicked citizens flocking to under-pressure hospitals for coronavirus tests.
Currently doctors rely on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests from nasal and throat swabs to detect COVID-19.
The demand for the PCR test can mean kits are in short supply and results can take two to four days.
The new rapid strip tests detect antibodies (IgG & IgM) in the blood serum or plasma which could indicate that a patient either currently or previously had COVID-19.
It works with a drop of blood and gives a first positive or negative result in 10 to 15 minutes.
Although it does not replace the need for laboratory testing of COVID-19, there is hope that the test kit will help reduce the large number of patients who need to go to the hospital for examination.
“We don’t want to replace the PCR test but we want to add some screening tests to help the government to decrease the amount of workload who come to have the PCR test by using our rapid test,”Professor Narin Hiransuthikul, vice president of Chulalongkorn University told Sky News.
“If the rapid test is accurate enough we would like to expand this kind of test to all the provinces in Thailand.”
Patients who get positive results are sent for a follow-up PCR test, those who are negative are told to self-quarantine for 14 days.
In recent trials the test had a 5% margin of error, so negative patients are retested after a few days to confirm the reading.
Some 50 patients can be seen each day at the facility in Bangkok where chairs are meticulously separated to enforce social distancing.
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Wasu booked an appointment after developing a fever. “I’m quite worried because I heard on the news that more patients are infected every day,” the 30-year-old said.
When his number is called he is led behind a screen where a waiting nurse pricks his finger and adds a drop of blood to a small plastic strip test.
Slowly two pink lines appear which Dr Santhiti Dahlan, director of Chulalongkorn University Health Service Centre explains means positive.
Eight patients have been seen so far today – Wasu is one of five positives. His elderly father has just had an operation and he doesn’t want to infect his family.
To confirm the result Wasu now gets the standard PCR throat and nasal swabs.
Currently the rapid test is free but even if public hospitals charge, Professor Narin Hiransuthikul says it would cost patients roughly 300 Thai Baht (£7.30), making it around 10 times cheaper than the PCR test.
If developers get government approval the plan is to role the new test out nationwide-adding another weapon to Thailand’s armoury against the deadly virus.