Amid pandemic surge in Valley, negligent handling of samples for virus test sets alarm bells ringing-Health News , Technomiz
In view of the poor sample collection, the health authorities have been asked to ensure a better testing procedure and to improve the testing rate across Kashmir
Srinagar: Leak of COVID-19 virus at collection and testing laboratories in Kashmir for various reasons has triggered an alarm amid the surge in positive cases in the Valley.
The revelations have come as Kashmir is seeing an unprecedented surge of positive cases for the last several weeks. Official records reveal that COVID-19 samples collected from people in several districts didn’t even bear the specimen numbers or names of blocks from where they were gathered which has also raised serious questions on the positive caseload numbers. In addition to that, leakage of the virus in the process has only compounded the problem.
The issue of sample leaks was brought to the fore in a meeting which was convened by divisional commissioner Kashmir on 15 April.
As per the note of the meeting, “Some of the districts are not putting in SRF numbers upon the samples for RT-PCR, many others are not sorting the samples block wise and some are sending leaky samples to the laboratories.”
The real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests are being done at only a few hospitals in Kashmir where the test samples are dispatched from different districts. The leakage was also noticed as the health workers dispatched RT-PCR samples outside Jammu and Kashmir for testing due to the heavy load on the laboratories in the Valley, an official who preferred to remain anonymous, said.
According to the official, the specimen referral form (SRF) number for each COVID-19 sample was the only way to identify it. They added that while SRF labels were missing in several samples, virus leak was also detected in some viral transport medium (VTM) tubes that were used to collect COVID-19 samples.
Healthcare workers said that they have to fill up the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) form to generate SRF code to identify a COVID-19 positive case.
“The VTM kits that we had received from the authorities were broken and the leaks were detected at the laboratories. The RT-PCR tests are done several kilometres away from the sample collection centres and the leaks have also taken place during transportation,” said Shopian chief medical officer Dr Arshad Hussain Tak.
Medical experts have said that poor testing was one of the reasons that the COVID-19 positive cases and fatality numbers released by the government each day appear to be an undercount. On Saturday, authorities said they detected 2,253 new positive cases of COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir.
Of them, 794 cases were reported from the Jammu division and 1,459 from the Kashmir division. The deaths were 46 out of which 30 were from Jammu and 16 from Kashmir. The number of active positive cases has now risen to 39,255 while the total number of 2,86,684 positive cases have been detected across the Union Territory (UT) so far.
In view of the poor sample collection, the health authorities have been asked to ensure a better testing procedure and to improve the testing rate across Kashmir.
The health department spokesperson, Dr Mir Mushtaq, said that the healthcare workers have been advised that the COVID-19 samples should be taken properly. “There could be cases of sample leakage, but the people are later being re-tested for the virus,” he said.
The revelation of virus leaks has come to the fore even as the authorities asserted the need for early detection of positive cases and timely hospitalisation to prevent deaths. The testing has already been low in all the regions of southern Kashmir, central Kashmir and northern Kashmir and the targeted numbers were not achieved.
As per official records in the south Kashmir districts of Shopian and Anantnag only 169 and 376 tests respectively were carried out in the first two weeks of the COVID-19 surge in April. In the northern Kashmir districts of Kupwara and Baramulla, only 237 and 418 tests respectively were done in the first two weeks of April while in the central Kashmir district of Budgam no RT-PCR test was done on 337 COVID-19 symptomatic people after their Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) turned out to be negative.
Budgam chief medical officer Dr Tajamul Hussain Khan said that the testing has been sped up and was now done at several healthcare centres including those in the rural areas.
“We are now carrying out RAT tests at several hospitals including the sub-district hospitals (SDHs) and the primary health centres (PHCs),” he said.
The authorities had earlier devised the guidelines that 15,000 people should be tested from among a million each day and half of the tests should be done through RT-PCR. The testing has not remained commensurate with these targets even when those under observation for COVID-19 in Jammu and Kashmir has now reached 20,76,265. The UT has done tests on 84,92,134 people so far.
“Those under observation were the contacts of the positive patients,” said Tak adding that the testing procedures are being improved to prevent leaks or missing SRF numbers.
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