KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 – Commercial rapid test kits may not be able to diagnose coronavirus because they only detect antibodies that appear five to eight days after infection, health authorities said today.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said these rapid test kits that detect antibodies in a person may not detect the virus and confirm the infection quickly.
“This may not help in the early detection of Covid-19 cases. Therefore, RTK (rapid test kits) testing that detect antibodies are not recommended for the purpose of diagnosing Covid-19.”
MyEG sells Covid-19 rapid test kits for between RM99 and RM149. Several companies also provide home-sampling tests — Pantai Premier Pathology, several Pantai hospitals, Gleneagles Kuala Lumpur, and Qualitas, among others — though it’s unknown what kind of tests they use. Qualitas charges RM700 for its home screening service.
Dr Noor Hisham, however, vouched for the laboratory tests conducted in government health facilities.
“For your information, laboratory tests conducted in government health facilities for Covid-19 infection are by using Real-Time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (rRT-PCR) technique,” he said.
“The rRT-PCR test will detect the presence of the Covid-19 virus in the patient’s body.
“Thus, a positive Covid-19 rRT-PCR test means that the individual has been infected with the Covid-19 virus. Accurate test results through the rRT-PCR technique are crucial in the effective management of Covid-19 patients,” he added.
Dr Noor Hisham advised the public not to administer the rapid test kits without consulting a doctor, as unreliable tests may cause misunderstanding and frustration over the results.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) provides free testing for symptomatic people suspected to be infected with coronavirus. Health authorities will also test those without symptoms, but only if they attended a recent tabligh gathering at the Sri Petaling mosque here that is linked to the largest Covid-19 cluster in Malaysia of nearly 1,000 patients.
Higher MOH Testing Capacity
The Health DG said MOH has increased testing capacity to 7,000 tests daily, which he aims to expand to 16,000 daily tests by the end of the month.
Health authorities hope to test asymptomatic people as well so they can be isolated and treated, saying the coronavirus is already spreading in the community.
“We’ll have a target approach, certain groups that we think is high-risk, we’ll target them. If we can pick them early much better. Then we isolate and treat them,” Dr Noor Hisham said, without elaborating on the high-risk groups.
He cited South Korea’s mass testing strategy of doing 20,000 tests a day, which experts have attributed to a relative decline of coronavirus cases in the country.
“So we’re not that far, we’re doing 16,500 in the next one or two weeks’ time.
“So we will continue to test more people and hopefully, we’ll be able to detect more, and by detecting more and taking infected patients out of society or community, then we may flatten the curve.”
Ventilators And Beds
Dr Noor Hisham said flattening the curve means enhancing hospitals’ capacity to treat patients well so that they can recover.
“The only worry is that when there’s an exponential spike and capacity is limited, then we have to choose which patient will have the privilege of ventilation,” he said.
“We hope that we do not come to that stage to decide which patient can have ventilation and which patient cannot have ventilation.”Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Health Director-General
The Health DG said Sunday that MOH has managed to obtain 100 ventilators from private companies and 350 from China, adding 450 new to the current 945 ventilators in government hospitals for a total of 1,395 ventilators. As of today, 27 Covid-19 patients are on ventilators.
MOH is also targeting to allocate 300 intensive care unit (ICU) beds for coronavirus patients. To date, 272 ICU beds and 3,400 beds for isolation of Covid-19 patients have been allocated in 26 government hospitals, including Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC). Seven more hybrid hospitals have also been identified to treat coronavirus and other emergency cases, totalling 33, Dr Noor Hisham said today. As of today, 64 coronavirus patients are currently in ICU.
“We have postponed all the elective operations. We have referred patients from Covid hospitals to non-Covid hospitals and also to the private sector. By doing so, we have freed our beds in hospitals,” he said.
“Should we need beds further, we’ll convert our training institute hostels to become a ward because we cannot build a hospital in 10 days, but at least we can convert our training institutions to become a ward and hopefully by doing so, we can create more beds.”
He also said MOH has identified 3,000 retired nurses to help with the coronavirus outbreak.