With the onset of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, most people’s minds question whether home testing is a viable option.
During the pandemic’s formative stages, anyone with COVID-19 symptoms could apply online for a free PCR swab test through the NHS website.
However, as the number of infections steadily rose, it became necessary for people to consider other viable options such as home test kits.
Thankfully, there is a growing number of outlets such as express dentist that are offering emergency medical services and a growing number of outlets that are offering private COVID-19 tests
That notwithstanding, it is critical to understand the import of each of the tests on offer, as not all of them are similar or work in the same way.
Similarly, the results that some of these tests may give you may differ, depending on what you are testing for.
It is therefore imperative to understand the workings of a particular test before embarking on using it.
Not only is this critical for your health, but it is crucial to your budget as well, since some of the home tests cost upwards of £40 and can even run into several hundred pounds!
In this sum up, we outline and explain the various testing stages, the different tests available, and explain what you should expect from each.
The breakdown of topics is as follows:
What COVID-19 testing entails.
Different COVID-19 testing methods in the UK.
Antibodies and immunity.
Where are the antibody tests found?
COVID-19 test results and what they mean.
What COVID-19 testing entails.
For symptomatic individuals, the standard test used to test for coronavirus is the Polymerase Chain Reaction (or PCR) test.
It is regarded as the ‘gold standard’ in COVID-19 testing as it is the most reliable.
The test involves taking DNA swabs from a suspected patient for scientific analysis of the virus’s genetic signature.
A person infected with the COVID-19 virus (SARs-CoV-2) will have traces of the virus’ genetic material or RNA.
So far, PCR tests remain your best bet in detecting the current presence of coronavirus in an individual.
Alternatively, an antigen test may be conducted, which involves testing the sample swabs for a protein produced by the SARs-CoV-2 virus. However, this method is not used as much, as doctors prefer the more accurate PCR test.
The swabs may be taken from the patient’s throat (nasopharyngeal), mouth (oropharyngeal), or nose (nasal) passages.
PCR tests are administered to people showing COVID-19 symptoms, and anyone found to have had contact with a COVID-19 positive individual.
Contact tracing is used to identify people who have had such contact. This tracing includes persons who have been within 6 feet of the infected person for more than 15 minutes at a time.
However, even though PCR resting is accurate and reliable in determining a person’s COVID-19 status, this testing method has had its drawbacks.
First, it is time-consuming, as up to two days for the results to be out.
Also, due to the pandemic’s increased prevalence, there has been a greater demand for test kits.
Also, given the pandemic’s global nature, the countries producing these test kits have scaled down their exportation to prioritize local demand.
Consequently, the kits’ easy availability remains a challenge as only people presenting severe disease symptoms are tested in most countries.
Different COVID-19 testing methods in the UK.
Due to the challenges mentioned above, an alternate COVID-19 test was devised to supplement the PCR method.
The test is known as antibody testing and involves testing for the presence of antibodies in target populations.
Antibodies are blood proteins whose purpose is to fight specific diseases and toxins. We shall discuss antibodies in greater detail shortly.
Back to testing. While the PCR test focuses on the currently infected, antibody tests target the asymptomatic people or those suspected to have already been exposed to the virus but are yet to exhibit symptoms.
Why is this important?
Antibodies are proteins that the body produces to conquer disease-carrying organisms.
Antibody tests are thus useful in determining whether a person has been exposed to coronavirus in the recent past and developed antibodies against that virus.
This information is vital in controlling the virus’s spread, as it indicates where the disease is widespread and the fatality rate.
Adequately knowing about the prevalence rate enables governments to know where to ease lockdown restrictions.
Also, the presence of antibodies might suggest the likelihood of immunity against future COVID-19 infection, although studies on this are yet to be conclusive.
Unlike the PCR test, antibody tests take as little as 15 minutes to conclude.
However, there is one caveat; antibody testing should never be used to test for current COVID-19 infection. They can only be a useful indicator of asymptomatic patients or past COVID-19 exposure.
Therefore, for now, antibody testing results are mainly useful for research and administrative purposes.
Antibody testing involves the taking of blood samples from a target population.
It is done through a finger prick, after which the collected sample is taken to a medical lab for testing.
The sample is studied for two types of antibodies; IgM antibodies and IgG antibodies.
The former develops during the early stages of COVID-19 infection, while the latter group of antibodies is found in patients who have already recovered from the illness.
Typically, testing for IgM antibodies only takes 15 minutes, but IgG testing may take up to a week.
Either way, antibody testing is a useful tentative indicator of the likelihood of COVID-19 infection and serves as a placeholder test as an individual awaits a PCR test.
- – Antibodies and Immunity
To understand the relationship between antibodies and immunity, it is crucial first to understand what immunity is.
Active immunity to a disease may be acquired naturally or maybe vaccine-induced.
Natural immunity develops after a person recovers from a particular illness when their body produces antibodies against that infection.
On the other hand, vaccine-induced immunity occurs when antibodies to that specific illness are introduced to the body through a vaccine.
The general rule in virology is that antibodies are a powerful indicator of immunity from a particular disease.
Antibodies act as foot soldiers against a particular disease. If an antibody carrier encounters the same disease in the future, his body’s antibodies will automatically fight the infection.
That is how immunity is developed.
However, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, studies to determine whether its antibodies already mean immunity are still underway.
Nonetheless, antibody testing is used to determine the percentage of the population with developed antibodies and are likely candidates for immunity.
- -Where are antibody tests found?
Rapid coronavirus tests or antibody tests are available for both clinical and home use.
The following are some of the more popular ones:
- •Healgen Covid-19 Rapid Antibody Test Kit (Box of 25 tests) – £119.99
- •Healgen Covid-19 Rapid Antibody Test Kit (Box of 20 tests)- £109.99
- -PCR Tests
As stated earlier, PCR tests are offered by the NHS, but their availability might sometimes prove tricky owing to high demand.
Private PCR testing is, however, available at high-end outlets such as the ones listed below:
- •Boots: They offer PCR tests similar to those rendered by the NHS. These test results may be used as proof of testing in case of travel. They are offered at the cost of £120 per test.
- •Lloyds: The Lloyds PCR test may not be used as proof of testing during travel. However, they come at a lower cost than the Boots test, at £119 per test. Also, unlike the Boots test, which is only available in-store, the Lloyds PCR test can be ordered online and delivered to your doorstep.
COVID-19 Test Results and What They Mean
PCR Test Positive
Should your PCR test turn out positive, it is an indication that you might be infected with the SARs-CoV-2 virus.
The first recommended course of action is to self-isolate. During the isolation period, stick to the medication prescribed by your physician.
Your physician will also advise you on the duration of isolation and when you can resume interaction with other people.
Nonetheless, even during isolation, you will be required to observe high personal hygiene levels using reliable hand sanitizers regularly.
For asymptomatic persons who test positive on a PCR test, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends isolation for 10 days following the positive result.
Should the asymptomatic person test negative after 10 days, they can resume interaction with other people.
For the severely ill, hospitalization may be necessary. This may include oxygen support through the help of respirators.
People severely hit by COVID-19 or those with underlying conditions will need an observation and isolation period beyond the standard 10 days.
If you are in Wales or England, the NHS Test and trace team will contact you to commence contact tracing.
For Northern Ireland, the PHA Contact Tracing Service is at hand to make a follow-up.
As for Scotland, you can expect to receive a visit by the National Contact Tracing Service, who will find out who your contact persons were for purposes of quarantine and isolation.
PCR Test Negative
If your PCR test comes back negative, that means you are currently not infected with the SARs-CoV-2 virus.
Nonetheless, to continue keeping coronavirus at bay, you should continue observing the prevention measures set by the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO).
These include wearing a face mask when in public, regular washing of hands with soap and water, and observing at least 1meter social distance from other people.
Antibody Test Positive
It is worth remembering that antibody tests (or Rapid tests) only tell you whether a person has had a prior infection by the SARs-CoV-2 virus.
The test is not a useful indicator of current infections and should not be used for suspected current infections.
That said, should the antibody test turn out positive, then it shows that the person has had a COVID-19 infection in the past or is asymptomatic.
Antibody Test Negative
Where the antibody test comes back negative, it means no antibodies have been detected.
It is also important to note that all COVID-19 tests may register false negatives.
A false negative can occur when an antibody test is conducted too soon (before the body has formed antibodies).
In such a case, the test result may read negative (of antibodies) even if they are currently infected with the virus.
Most people’s bodies typically form antibodies after the lapse of 14 days after infection.
As a result, any antibody test administered during this period will not pick up on any antibodies, as they are yet to be formed.
For this reason, we are advised to have a PCR test administered right after an antibody test where we suspect infection.