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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Zika testing lab works overtime at AIIMS, Bhopal

The lab is the only centre equipped to test zika samples. The virus is transmitted through the aedes aegypti mosquito.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2018 11:52 IST
Rhythma Kaul
Rhythma Kaul
Hindustan Times, Bhopal
The lab is the only centre equipped to test zika samples.
The lab is the only centre equipped to test zika samples. (Reuters file photo for representation)

The virology laboratory at Bhopal’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) has remained open round-the-clock to test blood samples within 24 hours since the zika outbreak was first reported in Madhya Pradesh about three weeks ago. Two people, who have tested positive for the Zika virus, have died in Bhopal.

The zika virus is transmitted through the aedes aegypti mosquito. It causes fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain. It is harmful for pregnant women, as the mother can pass the infection to her fetus during pregnancy or around the time of birth leading to microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s head is significantly smaller than normal.

“During any public health crisis, time is of the essence. We need to get results faster so that the disease pattern and hotspots are established for outbreak investigation,” said the lab’s principal investigator, Dr Debasis Biswas.

The lab is the only centre equipped to test zika samples. The other virology laboratory at Bhopal’s Gandhi Medical College has been in existence for barely two months.

Also read | Zika virus kills two in Madhya Pradesh, 84 affected in state

Dr Shaswati Neema, Dr Ram Kumar Neema, Dr Sudhir Gupta, Kudsia Ansari and Arun Raghuvanshi are part of Biswas’s team.

“The rush has been so severe that we have had to keep the lab open also on weekends. We have even received 124 samples in a day,” said AIIMS (Bhopal) director Dr Sarman Singh.

From the lab’s room one, where blood and urine samples are brought for testing, till room four that is fitted with a sophisticated testing machine to read the results, it takes almost six hours to get results for each batch.

The person in room number 1 has the job of extracting pure RNA from the blood or urine sample as Zika is an RNA-based virus. The room number 2 is meant to add an enzyme, master mix solution and water in a tube that is added to the extracted RNA. In room number 3, all ingredients are mixed together with the extracted RNA. Finally, in room number 4, the prepared sample is kept in a sophisticated machine that analyses it and pronounces the result.

Each of the six has been putting in 12 to 14 hours daily without leave since November 1, when mass testing started for zika. At least 40% of the samples tested positive.

“As medical professionals, they are trained to be ready for any medical emergency. This was a case of the public health emergency,” says Dr Singh.

Read more | Centre to start 4-day Zika outbreak investigation training programme soon

Since this is a specialized lab, it also has to take care of clinical, diagnostic and research work and also teaching.

Despite being short-staffed, the team is not complaining about the long hours. “We have improved rostering,” said Dr Biswas.

Initially, all fever samples were sent to the lab, but now the surveillance team is screening samples that have reduced the numbers being tested.

The laboratory is funded by the government of India’s Department of Health Research-Indian Council of Medical Research as part of a network of 10 laboratories for advanced research.

First Published: Nov 20, 2018 11:50 IST