Hyderabad: The State government is likely to procure S-gene RT-PCR test kits that can be employed as a proxy test to detect the presence of the Omicron variant. The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 does not have an S-gene, which is also commonly known as S-gene dropout. Due to this specific character of the Omicron variant, public health organisations are employing special kits that can detect this pattern of S-gene dropout, as a preliminary marker or a proxy test to identify Omicron, before sending samples for genome sequencing for final confirmation.
An S-gene dropout test has the potential to cut-down time and enables public healthcare workers and Covid positive patients to quickly have an idea over the probability of whether it is Delta or Omicron. More importantly, such kits can be utilised even by field-level workers in the coming months, in the event of the Omicron variant becoming the dominant strain in the community, senior health officials here said. A similar move to procure S-gene Target Failure (SGTF) kits to detect the absence of S-gene for preliminary indication of Omicron variant among Covid positive patients is underway in States like Karnataka and Maharashtra.
At present, all the international passengers arriving at Shamshabad airport from at-risk countries undergo RT-PCR tests. In case they test positive, then their blood samples are collected and sent to a genetic laboratory for full genome sequencing, which takes at least 3 to 4 days. Till the lab tests arrive, neither public health officials nor Covid positive patients have any idea about the kind of variant that they are dealing with.
“An intermediate step while conducting the Covid tests to ascertain the presence of Omicron is necessary while screening international passengers. There is one type of RT-PCR test, which is available in India that can detect the Omicron variant with quite an accuracy and can be completed within two hours. The Genome sequencing is of course 100 per cent accurate, which can be taken up at a later stage. It has the potential to cut both time and cost,” says SERB National Chair, IIT Hyderabad and founding member of the noted SUTRA mathematical model for pandemics, Dr M Vidyasagar.
According to reports, the Maharashtra government has already procured the S-gene kits in bulk with a cost of about Rs 15 to Rs. 20 per individual. “The test can be a screening marker, which will give ad-hoc information to surveillance teams and Covid positive patients. There are many Indian companies, which are offering this specific test at affordable rates,” health officials here said.
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