Testing blood for viruses gets faster

Karnataka Health and Family Welfare Department Secretary Dr E V Ramana Reddy,  Novartis President Peter Maag and  Dr A R Aruna,  Director, Medical Education, GoK, at the inauguration of a NAT lab at the Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital on Monday. DH photo

The Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital on Monday became the first hospital in the State to launch the Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) facility, which reduces window time in detecting HIV virus, Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and Hepatitis C virus (HCV) in blood samples.

The only other government hospitals in the country to provide this facility are AIIMS and Rammanohar Lohiya Hospital in Delhi.  

Health Secretary Dr E V Ramana Reddy, who inaugurated the facility, said compared to the Elisa test for checking the purity of blood, NAT reduced the window time in detecting the viruses. The facility will start functioning next week, said Medical Education director Dr Aruna.

Dr Siddiq Ahmed, professor and in-charge of the blood bank at Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, said the NAT test could detect HIV virus in the collected blood within 5.3 days after infection, compared to 15 days in the current process.

Similarly, HBV and HCV viruses can be detected within 15 and 3.4 days respectively, compared to 38.3 and 58.3 days earlier. This means the window period is reduced by 65 per cent for HIV, 94 per cent for HCV and 64 per cent for HBV viruses, he said.

Since one unit of blood was given to at least three people, NAT testing of blood would go a long way in preventing people from getting infected.

According to Ahmed, the State's prevalence rates of HIV virus, HCV and HBV according to Elisa testing are 0.4 per cent, 1.12 per cent and 1.86 per cent respectively.

Incidentally, the HBV prevalence in the State is higher than the national prevalence rate.

"It is going to be a one-year pilot study, where we will use both Elisa and NAT methods and monitor the number of negatives shown in the former test. We are planning to do the test on 75 to 100 units of blood once a week. Blood will be collected from two blood donation camps held once a week," he said.

Ahmed said they were aiming at testing 10,000 units of blood a year. Since the tests were voluntary, patients would be charged Rs 300 to 400 per unit or component.

However, the hospital was still working on the charges to be levied for people below poverty line.

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