We do not wait for test reports to start treatment: official

Even as Influenza A(H1N1) is spreading across the State, an acute shortage of testing kits is worrying patients. Testing of samples at the laboratory at the National Institute of mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) here, which is the only government facility to test samples from across the State, has come to a standstill for the last one week.

While patients, who cannot afford tests in private laboratories, are anxiously waiting for the reports, State health officials, who admitted that there was a shortage, claim all is well.

“We usually do not wait for the test reports to start treatment. Medicines are administered symptomatically. We have enough stock of medicines and the problem of shortage of kits will be sorted out soon,” said Chandrashekar Malagi, State Joint Director (Communicable Diseases).

Admitting there was a severe shortage, V. Ravi, Head of the Department of Neuro-Virology at NIMHANS, told The Hindu here on Thursday that the demand for A(H1N1) testing kits had gone up in the last two months after the flu started spreading. “We have a backlog of more than 450 samples as we had stopped testing for a week. We had placed orders last week itself and have now learnt that the stocks have been despatched by the manufacturer. We are likely to get our stock of kits to test 500 samples by Friday,” he said.

He said the situation was the same across the country. “With just one company manufacturing the kits and so many countries requiring them, it is a difficult situation. The kits are procured from a World Health Organisation (WHO)-recommended company that has been licensed by the Centre for Disease Control,” Dr. Ravi said.

He said the shortage was also affecting tests at private laboratories in Manipal and Bangalore that have been authorised by the Government to conduct the tests. “One of them even asked us to help them out but we refused as we ourselves are facing a shortage. While the tests are free at our facility, private laboratories charge Rs. 5,000 per test,” he said.

From January this year, the State Health Department has sent 933 samples to NIMHANS for tests. While eight persons died of the disease, 173 persons tested positive.

Sources in the department said that they were expecting that the flu might spread faster as it has started raining.

During the initial outbreak in 2009, when patients flocked hospitals out of panic, the State Government had decided to prioritise the cases into “A”, “B” and “C” categories based on the severity of symptoms.

“While treatment was started symptomatically for all, samples of serious cases classified under ‘C' category were taken up for tests and this had helped a lot,” said Shashidhar Buggi, Director of Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (RGICD).

Advising people not to panic, Dr. Ravi said that the number of samples received at the laboratory had reduced drastically now. He said that the samples that had piled up would not be taken up for testing unless there was a dire necessity. “Most of the patients whose samples had been sent would have been treated by now. I do not want to waste the reagents on testing old samples,” he added.