Covid-19: IMR can deliver test results within six hours, says virology unit chief

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's Institute for Medical Research (IMR) can deliver Covid-19 test results within six hours of receiving samples, says Dr Ravindran Thayan.

The IMR's Infectious Disease Research Centre Virology Unit chief said it was vital to quickly deliver results, enabling health authorities to immediately carry out contact tracing if results come back positive.

"We have also trained workers at 12 designated hospitals and five public health laboratories nationwide to carry out Covid-19 tests," said Dr Ravindran.

Samples that test positive at designated hospitals and laboratories must also be delivered to IMR for further confirmation.

"Also, the designated hospitals and labs must send us five random negative samples within a week, so we can double-check the results," Dr Ravindran said Wednesday (Feb 26).

Dr Ravindran said they used the World Health Organisation (WHO) Covid-19 reagents to carry out the test at a cost of RM100 per sample.

"However, even before the WHO standard reagents were available (on Jan 26), we had already made early preparations on Jan 3 to revise our standard operating procedure to test the Covid-19 virus using the conventional RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) methodology.

"On Jan 11, Chinese scientists had shared information on the genetic makeup of the new virus in the common database, enabling our officers to develop primers and probe sequences specific to Covid-19.

"IMR officers succeeded in optimising the real-time RT-PCR Covid-19 test on Jan 22, and we supplied the reagent to the Sungai Buloh National Public Health Laboratory on Jan 24 to test the first three positive cases detected in Malaysia.

"The test developed by IMR was used to positively identify four Covid-19 cases prior to the arrival of the WHO Covid-19 reagents on Jan 26.

"The samples taken earlier yielded the same results when tested again with WHO Covid-19 reagents," he said.

Dr Ravidran said observing stringent hand hygiene was crucial to contain the spread of the virus, as it could survive in droplet form for a few days.

IMR Infectious Disease Research Centre chief Dr Norazah Ahmad said IMR started off as a national pathology service facility under the National Institute of Health in 1900.

"Our National Institutes of Health Complex in Setia Alam boasting 26 blocks is already operational.

"However, our facility in Kuala Lumpur will remain in operation, as a diagnostic centre.

"The new complex in Setia Alam will serve as a research centre," she said.

IMR director Dr Tahir Aris said China had started using anti-malaria drugs to treat Covid-19 patients.

"Singapore has also reported positive results after using anti-malaria drugs," said Dr Tahir.

Lopinavir/Ritonavir pills, usually used in HIV treatment, have also yielded positive results, he said, adding that it is used in Thailand, Singapore and China.

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