Omicron concern: Maharashtra government sanctions Rs 2.4 cr to buy S gene test kits
With a gradual increase in Omicron cases, the state health department has sanctioned Rs 2.4 crore to purchase S gene test kits to assess the spread of the new variant of Covid-19 as part of its 20 day study.
The test detects the absence of the S gene, which is an indicator of the presence of the Omicron variant in a Covid-19 patient. Formally known as the S-gene Target Failure (SGTF) assay, this proxy assay can be used to detect samples that need to be prioritized for genomic sequencing in order to confirm Omicron.
In the past 16 days, Omicron cases have risen to 65 in the state. Public health experts fear that, as Omicron has already spread to 89 countries, many of which are not under the radar of “countries at risk,” several international airmen infected with Omicron arriving in India may go undiagnosed. This increases the risk of transmission at the community level, which can lead to a third wave as seen in European countries, officials said.
To understand the likelihood of an undetected spread of the virus, the state asked 36 districts to perform 100 RT-PCR tests with SGTF kits to identify patients suspected of Omicron.
As planned by next week, on a daily basis, 3,600 SGTF tests would be performed on targeted populations such as international travelers and their close contacts, patients with reinfection or breakthrough infection, people in Covid-19 hotspots. and infected patients with synomatic abnormalities, among others.
“The districts have been asked to get the kits at their level from the manufacturers, which will be faster. Testing would be done to prioritize samples for genome sequencing. In addition, once the study is completed after 20 days, it will help us understand the trend of the virus, ”said Dr Satish Pawar, additional director of the national health mission.
Dr Prashant Thakare, head of the government molecular diagnostic laboratory at Amravati, is awaiting final approval from the collector to place the purchase order. “Genome sequencing takes a long time to report. So the kit will reduce the search for the needle in a haystack by refining the search, ”he said.
As the price of an SGTF kit is nearly seven times that of the government-supplied RT-PCR kit – which can only detect the E, N, and Rd Rp genes, not the S gene – the government has sanctioned Rs. 2.4 crore for purchasing purposes.
The Taqpath RT-PCR Kit is manufactured by Thermo Fisher Scientific, a United States-based pharmaceutical company. It is the only RT-PCR kit targeting the S gene that has been approved by the World Health Organization. While the Taqpath RT-PCR kit costs Rs 240 each, a standard RT-PCR kit costs around Rs 40.
“Due to several mutations in Omicron’s advanced proteins, it can be detected using the SGTF test. But it doesn’t provide a 100% guarantee, so all samples marked red must undergo genome sequencing for confirmation, ”Pawar said.
On November 30, the government asked all districts to focus on SGTF testing for “effective detection for Omicron” and ordered specimens with SGTF to be prioritized for genomic sequencing to confirm Omicron. States such as Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have also placed orders for SGTF kits.