Dr Rashi Mehta, Microbiologist, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai, gives a snapshot of behind the scenes of how the work is done by a microbiologist in the lab. How every health worker are balancing family apprehensions while doing their duty in this pandemic.
“Is my report ready?”
This is the most frequently asked question to microbiologists today. And the answer to this question is the culmination of a journey that the microbiologist as well as a microbiology lab technician goes through, right from the time the test request reaches the laboratory to the time the report is issued to the patient.
The beginning of this year saw the advent of a pandemic, the scale of which was hitherto unprecedented by this generation as well as the last. Humans are social animals but this pandemic required us to distance ourselves socially in order to protect us, our loved ones and the society in general from this illness.
As soon as the disease onset began, so began the search for its diagnostic tools as well as its cure.
As we all know, Covid19 is caused by SARS CoV2 which is a virus belonging to the coronaviridiae family. The method to diagnose Covid19 infection is to detect its RNA in a respiratory sample. This method is known as RT-PCR. It involves collection of a nasopharyngeal and/or an oropharyngeal swab in a suitable viral transport media followed by extraction and amplification of its genetic material (RNA) which leads to its detection.
Microbiologists and microbiology laboratory technicians are at the forefront of this diagnostic process. These are the healthcare workers actively involved in sample collection as well as processing and reporting. There is a dedicated team for collection, another for processing and a third team for reporting. This is done so as to distribute the workflow evenly. It also ensures that the staff is focused on their aspect of work for the day which helps improve productivity and accuracy. Each team is equipped with all the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as impermeable gowns, gloves, cap, shoe covers, shields and N 95 masks. The correct procedure of wearing (donning) as well as removing (doffing) is taught to all staff. Periodic trainings for the same are also undertaken.
Trainings are also undertaken for collection, processing as well as reporting of samples. Appropriate quality assurance tests are also carried out to assess and maintain laboratory quality.
A lot depends on a correct and timely Covid19 report. An accurate report delivered in a timely manner aids patient management, patient isolation, safety of doctors and healthcare workers as well as safety of family members of the patients. Another important aspect is timely notification of municipal authorities so that they are able to take measures to contain the disease from spreading wide, thereby protecting the community.
Each and every step in this process has to be carried out with utmost diligence as well as precision in order to improve the accuracy of the report as well as to ensure proper contact tracing to contain the disease. To be able to do this consistently everyday requires a lot of motivation. This circumstance is challenging physically, emotionally as well as mentally. Every healthcare worker has to balance family apprehensions and also that of our own while doing our duty in this pandemic.
But none of that has hindered our resolve to keep serving as best as we can in such challenging times. At all times proper collection of samples, transport, processing is ensured and we strive for a quicker turnaround time for reporting. This has enabled us to help many patients seek appropriate care for their ailments while also ensuring our own safety as well as the safety of our laboratory technicians. All so that when we are asked the apprehensive question, “Is my report ready?”, we can answer with a resounding and reassuring, “Yes!”.