Saline Gargle RT-PCR is a simple, fast, and cost-effective Covid-19 testing method that offers instant results

With lack of infrastructure and people living in close proximity with each other, rural areas in India are worst-hit by the deadly second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. They have to travel miles to reach a proper Covid-healthcare center.

The pain of those living in far-fetched villages could get some relief with a new testing technique developed by the scientists of Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Saline Gargle RT-PCR is a simple, fast, and cost-effective Covid-19 testing method that offers instant results with minimum infrastructural requirements. The non-invasive technique has received a nod from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The latest testing process uses gargle samples, which are used for detecting the person for the Covid-19 infection. There is no need for collecting an individual’s nasal or throat swabs. Unlike the RT-PCR testing tool kits, there is no need to transport the samples in a specific medium, making it suitable for rural areas.

“The method uses a simple collection tube filled with saline solution. The patient gargles the solution and rinses it inside the tube. This sample in the collection tube is taken to the laboratory where it is kept at room temperature, in a special buffer solution prepared by NEERI. An RNA template is produced when this solution is heated, which is further processed for Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR),” explained Senior Scientist, Environmental Virology Cell, NEERI Krishna Khairnar in a detailed press release issued by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Another key part is that, unlike the usual RT-PCR, this technique can give results at a faster rate. It minimizes waste and is very economical. With no need for RNA extraction, simple room temperature incubation can be done.

“Swab collection method requires time. Moreover, since it is an invasive technique, it is a bit uncomfortable for patients. Some time is lost also in the transport of the sample to the collection centre. On the other hand, the Saline Gargle RT-PCR method is instant, comfortable and patient-friendly. Sampling is done instantly and results will be generated within 3 hours,” Khairnar added.

NEERI has further been asked to train other testing labs, to help scale up its adoption across the country. Nagpur Municipal Corporation has given permission to go ahead with the method, following which testing has begun at NEERI, as per approved testing protocol.

Scientists, researchers and lab-technicians of the Environmental Virology Cell at NEERI have taken painstaking efforts to develop this patient-friendly technique amid surging COVID-19 infections in the Vidarbha region.

If introduced all over India, this could be one of the answers to the question that has been often posed nowadays -What does rural India need in its fight against the pandemic?