Two weeks ago, Nazrul Islam, 75, having breathing problem, underwent Covid-19 rapid tests twice and a PCR test once. And each time the report came negative. Yet he died from acute breathing problems in a Chattogram city hospital Saturday night.
His son, journalist Mizanul Islam, said his father was first admitted to Chattogram Medical College Hospital. The Covid-19 test reports came negative every time, but his father's oxygen saturation dropped alarmingly. He was later treated in the ICU of another hospital in the city, but could not be saved.
Although the virus was not detected by the tests, physicians treated him as a Covid patient, said Mizanur.
Like Nazrul Islam, many others in Chattogram are also not being diagnosed with Covid-19 infections though they have symptoms of the viral infection.
Health officials of the Chattogram Health Department fear that at least 30 percent of patients in Chattogram have gotten wrong Covid-19 test reports since the beginning of the fresh wave.
The new strains of the coronavirus could not be identified through testing for lack of research, experts think.
Hasan Shahriar Kabir, Chattogram divisional director of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told The Business Standard, "The death rate among Covid-19-infected patients in Chattogram is high due to new variants of the virus. This is because domestic variants of the virus may have changed and taken on new characteristics. Again, it may be the variant that has come from Britain. African and Brazilian variants have also spread. We are getting some such cases. Many Covid-19 negative patients died last year too."
"We do not have evidence about the African variant. We do not have enough research on it. I will not be able to comment on this until the research is done. However, people are losing their lives for these reasons. The situation is getting worse," he added.
Nargis Akhter lives with her mother- and father-in-law, and two children in the Bayezid Bostami area of the port city. Her husband lives abroad. She said she had to go outside for various reasons, and recently she had mild chest pain, fever, headache and a sore throat.
Then she had her Covid-19 test done at Chattogram Medical College Hospital but the result was negative.
Although she has recovered from the fever and sore throat after about 20 days, her father- and mother-in-law have now tested Covid-19 positive.
Nargis said, "I am the only one in the family who goes out. In mid-March, I had all the symptoms of corona but the test could not detect it. But now the two eldest members of my family have been found corona positive. They are now fighting for their lives at a private hospital in the city. If Covid-19 had been identified in my case at the beginning, they might not have had to go through this situation today."
Dr Mohammad Jamal Uddin, virus specialist at National Institute of Preventive and Social Medicine (NIPSOM), said, "Some of the Covid-19 variants are undetectable. The kits were made based on the circumstances of the last year. Coronavirus is one year old now, and over time, its character has also changed."
He also spoke about the lack of research on new strains.
"Those who are talking about the new strains through sequencing are basically giving their own results. This cannot be a proof. Nobody wants to prove it either. But if we cannot trace it, how can we treat patients? It is not possible to identify the new strains which have come so quickly. If anyone says they have got a new sequence, we have to believe it for now," said the virus specialist.
Prof Shakil Ahmed, laboratory in-charge at Bangladesh Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases (BITID), told The Business Standard, "PCR is not a 100 percent sensitive test. If 100 people are tested, there is a possibility that 70 people will not get the correct results. Samples that have a low load of germs cannot be identified."
Prof Shakil fears new variants may have spread in Chattogram.
"An African variant is seen often but it cannot be diagnosed. However, the English variant can be diagnosed in our country," he added.