DOH not recommending use of rapid test kits for coronavirus

As public calls for mass testing grow, the Department of Health (DOH) rejected the use of rapid test kits, saying these are not accurate enough to check for the novel coronavirus in patients.

"Ang ating rapid test kits hindi nirerekomenda ng DOH na gamitin natin ito (The DOH does not recommend the use of rapid test kits)," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a Laging Handa briefing on Monday, March 23.

Why not? Vergeire said rapid test kits can produce false negative results as these test for antibodies, which often do not produce accurate results.

She explained that such tests may look at past infections or acute infections, which can give patients a false sense of confidence that they are not infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

This means that if a patient has COVID-19 but is still in the early stages of infection, this may not show up in rapid tests.

According to infectious diseases specialist Dr Edsel Salvana, such tests are also "notoriously sticky," which means other viruses like the common cold can produce a cross-reaction, leading to a false positive.

In that scenario, tests will show the patient has COVID-19, when in reality, it is not the disease they are infected with.

What now? Vergeire said the DOH is sticking to tests approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization, which can be used by hospitals and laboratories with testing capacity.

Tests currently focus on those that trace the genetic makeup of the coronavirus in accredited and equipped labs like the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

The FDA has so far approved 8 commercially available test kits for use.

Despite this, the Philippines' capacity remains limited. The DOH said only up to 950 to 1,000 tests can be done per day, with the bulk coming from RITM.

The Philippines counted 396 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Monday morning. The confirmed cases included 33 deaths and 18 recoveries. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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