Thai university develops COVID-19 strip test

Chulalongkorn University, one of the country’s leading universities, said it has developed a COVID-19 strip test that delivers results in 15 minutes and will be sold over the counter if it receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Rapid and widespread testing is one of the best tools for understanding and containing the coronavirus epidemic, according to public health officials. Extensive testing has been credited with South Korea’s effective response to its outbreak of the disease.

“The strip test takes only five to 15 minutes. If they test positive, they are sent to our hospital immediately, while those who test negative are asked to return for another test in three days,” said Dr. Narin Hiransuthikul, head of the COVID-19 Emergency Operation Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

Dr. Narin, who is an expert in disease and epidemiology from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine, said the center would officially launch the test on March 30. The center has already tested it on more than 100 patients, and results have been 95 percent accurate.

A team from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences developed the tests.

The strip test involves users making a pinprick on their finger to draw a drop of blood, similar to home blood-sugar test kits.

Currently, doctors or nurses use a swab from a patient’s nose or throat to test for the virus. The demand for tests has created a shortage of swabs in some countries.

Dr. Narin said the strip test would not replace the swab test but could be used by people who are fearful they may have the virus but are not showing symptoms or are not acutely ill.

“As the outbreak intensifies, people have been flocking to hospitals for the [swab] test, which is extending the waiting period to three to four days. For instance, Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital gathers around 1,000 specimens every day, which is putting medical staff at risk because they are in close contact with coughing patients,” he said.

He did not say how long he expects it will take the FDA to approve the strip tests for over-the-counter sales, but the agency would most likely fast track its testing and approval.

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