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Home-grown kit to detect mystery virus

New Delhi, April 7: For Indians worrying over the virus, there is now a home grown diagnostic kit to confirm if the mystery malaise — the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS — has sneaked in under the door.

Introduced by the domestic clinical laboratory chain SRL Ranbaxy Limited, the kit carries a price tag that ranges between Rs 2,500 and Rs 5,000.

“Till now, scientists all over the world are trying to ascertain the causative agent. However, it is a mutant form of a virus or bacteria or a combination. So, based on this, we have three panels or test sections,” Vidur Kaushik, chief executive officer of the chain, told The Telegraph.

“The first two, namely the Viral and bacterial PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), cost Rs 2,500 each and the third one, a combined test, costs Rs 5,000. The selection of tests required will depend upon the case.”

SRL Ranbaxy has approached the health ministry and submitted a formal proposal to minister Sushma Swaraj to take part in the national preventive programme against SARS. However, “our services will be commercial”, Kaushik said. “Our USP is that we are the first laboratory in the country to offer this test.”

The chain, a Rs 50-crore reference laboratory system with more than 5,000 collection centres across the country, maintains that the tests can be conducted within 24 hours of sample collection.

“The sample collection will include two things — a nasopharyngeal swab and pharyngeal aspiratus sputum,” a company spokesperson said.

lan Hampson, of the World Health Organisation’s Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Australia, says India could already have undiagnosed cases, as it started checking airline passengers only on March 31, that too in a cursory manner.

“Any country where the healthcare infrastructure is not good and there are crowded living environments may be an area where SARS could establish and maintain itself and that would be a problem for the world,” Hampson said.

The flu, which has so far claimed more than 90 lives and affected 2,500 worldwide, erupted in southern China. International experts have pointed out that SARS could be caused by two viruses from the Corona and Paramyxo virus family. Corona usually causes common cold. The virus takes about two to seven days to incubate.

It starts with high fever and cough. Slowly the patient goes into respiratory distress and once it turns acute, the disorder can kill the patient.

Clues on what causes the disease and how it can be treated are few and far between. A WHO team is currently hunting for the source of the virus in China’s Guangdong province, the origin of the global outbreak.

In neighbouring Hong Kong, also heavily affected by the pneumonia-like disease, scientists are trying to find out how the latest batch of medical staff treating patients got infected, as also the sudden explosion of SARS in one housing estate. More than 200 people living in the apartment have been affected. News reports from the city state say analysis has revealed that patients in the early stage of the outbreak were cooks and bird vendors. This has led to suspicion that the virus might be linked to animals.

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