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City lab on flu test map

Swine flu suspects in the city may soon be spared the ordeal of spending at least two nights in the squalid Infectious Diseases Hospital, Beleghata, waiting for test results.

If things move according to plan, the city-based National Institute for Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) will start conducting swab tests for swine flu, shrinking the waiting time from 48 hours to 10 hours.

In the present system, nasal and throat swabs are sent to Delhi’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases for tests.

Reports come back after at least 48 hours and a suspect is forced to endure the dirty bedrolls, filthy toilets and mosquito bites of the Beleghata hospital till then.

“With the number of swine flu cases and suspects rising across the country, it will soon be difficult to conduct all tests at one centre,” an official in the Union health ministry said on Thursday. “So there are plans to decentralise the system and set up at least one nodal centre in each region.”

One of the nodal centres, the official added, will be the NICED laboratory in the Beleghata hospital compound. Sources said a team of experts from Delhi would inspect the laboratory soon.

“We have the facilities and the expertise to conduct swine flu tests here. The reagents and kits are in place and international standards will be maintained,” said NICED director Sekhar Chakraborty. “Human influenza tests are regularly done here. Swine flu tests follow similar techniques.”

According to NICED scientists, the actual test takes around two hours. “But there are some pre-test and post-test procedures and at times the entire process needs to be repeated. So it takes around 10 hours to arrive at a conclusion,” said a scientist.

Sources said the Indian Council for Medical Research has made the Delhi institute the nodal centre for flu tests though state-run laboratories have the required facilities.

Sutapa Bhattacharya, a homemaker from Kalyani who had walked out of the isolation ward of the Beleghata hospital only to be dragged back the next day, was happy to know that the test reports of swine flu suspects would soon arrive within 10 hours.

“It’s good to know that others will not have to suffer the trauma I had faced for two days,” she told Metro.

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