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Rapid COVID-19 home tests surge in India, experts flag risks



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A wholesale vendor displays Rapid Antigen Test kits at his outlet in Hyderabad, India, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. The use of rapid home tests has surged in India on the back of omicron cases, which have recently begun to decline. But experts have voiced caution, saying home tests are less accurate than lab-run PCR tests and that since not all results are being reported, new variants or future clusters may go undetected. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

By ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL and SHONAL GANGULY, NEW DELHI, Feb. 17 (AP) — On New Year’s Eve, the Indian government wrote to states encouraging them to promote the use of COVID-19 home tests, especially for people who are experiencing symptoms, in a bid to avoid straining local health systems.

During last year’s delta-driven surge, an explosion in cases overwhelmed hospitals and testing labs. But last month, as new infections fueled by the omicron variant skyrocketed, so did the number of people testing themselves at home across India.

In the first 20 days of January, around 200,000 people shared their test results with India’s health agency – a 66-fold increase compared to all of 2021. The strategy apparently worked. Those testing positive with speedy, though less accurate tests were told to self-isolate at home, allowing hospital beds to remain available for the most vulnerable.

But experts say this figure is likely only a fraction of the actual number of tests used. Despite rules requiring people to share their results with authorities, many aren’t doing so. This means the country’s already patchy testing data is even less accurate and that future clusters may go undetected.

It’s a problem some states in India are already flagging. In Maharashtra, state health official Dr. Pradeep Vyas recently appealed to all users to report their results. And since tests don’t differentiate between omicron and the deadlier delta variant, which also continues to spread in India, he warned there are still vulnerable people who need hospital care.