At least half a dozen doctors across medical colleges in Assam, who were infected with the coronavirus in the line of duty and had later tested negative, have once again developed COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive.
The Regional Medical Research Centre of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in the northeast region located at Lahowal in Assam’s Dibrugarh district has started collecting blood samples to find out if these are cases of a coronavirus re-infection or not, ICMR sources said.
While at the Assam Medical College Hospital (AMCH) at least six doctors have tested positive for the second time, similar cases have been reported to ICMR from the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), ICMR sources added.
Assam health secretary Samir Sinha told NDTV that the government would investigate such cases.
“The RT-PCR tests are a sensitive test so we cannot rule out the chances of false-positive, nor can we rule out re-infection if a patient has low anti-body count or in many cases do not develop the anti-body. Like any other virus here too, re-infection is possible but that would be very less. Only one percent of those people who have been treated for COVID-19 might develop re-infections. We have been updated with a few cases among doctors in medical colleges, thus we would see their anti-body count. This will reveal whether it’s a re-infection or a fresh infection,” said a senior virologist from ICMR Lahowal who did not want to be named.
“All we can confirm to you is that we have one of our doctors who has tested positive a second time, but the case is doubtful since it happened within the quarantine period,” Dr HK Goswami, Principal of AMC told NDTV.
Not too many doctors, health officials want to come on record about this since these are only cases of “suspected re-infection”.
A faculty member of AMCH in Dibrugarh who was first infected in July and later tested negative has once again tested positive with visible COVID-19 symptoms and even his family members have tested positive, confirming to NDTV that he has been infected for the “second time”.
According to several COIVD-19 test reports of this doctor available with NDTV, the 36-year-old, who is also a teaching faculty at the AMC, tested positive on 26th July for the first time through RT-PCR tests, which is considered to be the most accurate test for COVID-19.
“The first time I was tested positive was in July. I was completely asymptomatic. I was tested as a part of contact tracing since I came in contact with others from medical college and tested positive, and I was also tested positive and I was in mandatory isolation. I got myself tested on a rapid kit on the ninth day and tested negative. After completion of 14 days isolation I had joined on duty back,” the doctor told NDTV over the telephone from Dibrugarh.
Since he was on COVID-19 duty according to the protocol, the doctor’s swab was tested on RT-PCR. On 25th August, the test result came negative after tests were done on the completion of his duties.
“First a rapid test and then an RT-PCR test result came negative, as per protocol it means I had recovered from COVID-19. I thought to myself that I must have developed anti-body and I would not be easily infected again. But in September again I developed symptoms; soon my wife and my child also developed symptoms. Despite being a doctor, I got startled. I got myself and the family tested on the Rapid AG test, and it turned out to be positive. I am still wondering if I am infected for the second time within a month, or the first infection was a false-positive,” the doctor added.
He tested positive for the “second time” on 14th September and was admitted to the AMCH COVID facility with his family.
And he is not alone; at least five other such cases of symptomatic suspected re-infections have been reported from AMCH alone. The medical college has seen over 330 health workers, including at least 150 doctors infected in the line of duty so far, said sources within AMC involved with the testing of doctors and medical staff.
Across Assam, more than 1,600 doctors and health workers have so far tested positive for COVID-19.
“We have come across a couple of cases where doctors were tested positive earlier in the line of duty, have again tested positive. Now we need a detailed medical and scientific investigation to find out if it is a re-infection or maybe some dead cells remain or the first results are false negative.
“So officially we cannot confirm this as re-infection until there is an independent study of these cases, but we have observed that this time there are more symptoms. There was once a case where a doctor who reported positive second time had to be administered plasma therapy as well,” said a top official of GMCH, again on the condition of anonymity.