Medical adviser on COVID-19 rapid tests: 'In times of crisis, use available diagnostic tools'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 22 2020 05:52 PM

Tricycle riders in Marikina City undergo mass testing using rapid test kits for COVID-19 on May 19, 2020 amid the modified enhanced community quarantine. The Marikina government aims to test around 6000 tricycle drivers until Friday, with thousands more workers in the manufacturing industry to follow, as more industries have been allowed to re-operate under MECQ. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Using rapid test kits to screen workers returning to work after lockdown measures may do for now, in the absence of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kit, a medical adviser to the government task force on the pandemic said. 

“The gold standard is RT-PCR, but that does not mean that the rapid antibody testing is not effective kasi ginagamit yan in other countries,” Dr. Tony Leachon said on ANC’s Headstart Friday.

In the interview via Zoom, Leachon that it was practical to use all available diagnostic tools to save lives in times of crisis.

“With the limited resources, ang dapat na mindset ng medical society is to be able to help the government and not be rigid about it. Ano ba ang middle ground natin in order to help and it’s quite sad na in the midst of crisis may diversity ka ng opinion rather than be enablers of the public,” he said.

This, after several doctors' associations on Tuesday said they do not recommend the use of rapid antibody tests for COVID-19 to screen employees returning to work. 

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The Philippine Society of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (PSMID) said there is a high possibility of a false negative in the use of antibody test.

The Philippine College of Occupational Medicine (PCOM) meanwhile said the tests do not detect the virus, but sees the antibodies produced.

"Opinion ko doon hindi ako dogmatic, I'm practical. In times of crisis kasi you have to use all available diagnostic tools to save lives," he said.

Unlike the PCR-based tests preferred by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH), rapid antibody tests require blood samples instead of nose and throat swab samples.

“Kailangan lang yung medical society not regulate but enable and facilitate people on how to understand these tools since wala ka namang RT-PCR in other areas,” he said.

The DOH already warned the public that antibody tests are unable to detect the first few days of a virus since the body has yet to produce antibodies.

Metro Manila, large parts of Central Luzon and Laguna province are under modified enhanced community quarantine until May 31, in a bid to slow down the spread of the respiratory disease as these areas were considered high-risk.

With some businesses slowly reopening, the private sector is hoping to use rapid testing to screen employees. They are limited to using rapid test kits since there are not enough PCR test kits available.

“I’m on the side na maibalik yung economy pero ma-maintain yung safety nets natin for our patients,” Leachon said.

-- ANC Headstart 22 May 2020