Look Inside – What’s Involved in a COVID Test

With the UK pledging to ramp up testing since April, we thought it might be a good idea to discuss the two main types of testing currently available for the COVID-19 illness.

COVID Antibody Test

The COVID Antibody test is to detect whether a person has ever had COVID or its symptoms . This is a finger-prick test whether the blood can be analyzed to look for antibodies to the virus. Antibodies are produced by the human body in response to ‘antigens’ produced by the virus, and are part of the body’s immune system. 

If the test results are positive for the COVID-19 antibodies, it means that the individual has previously been infected with COVID-19 (regardless of whether symptoms were seen). Not much is known about the infected gaining immunity to a second attack though. 

However, a negative test result does not mean that an individual has never had COVID-19. The result may be negative because the infection was very mild, or that the body has not had a chance to produce the antibodies yet. 

The finger-prick antibody test kit is the test kit that the UK has been hoping to make available to the general public. There has been a bit of back-and-forth on the effectiveness of the many units ordered by the government as it relates to general public use, so it remains to be seen if the majority of the population will be tested with this one.

PCR Swab Test

The PCR Swab Test tests for whether an individual currently has the virus. This test is most effective when a patient is currently infected or is showing symptoms of COVID-19. This is deduced by swabbing the nose and throat and testing the swabs for presence of the specific RNA sequence/segment of the virus. The PCR stands for a mechanism that will amplify/produce identical copies of the RNA sequence so it is easier to test.

The test is known to have a bit of discomfort as the nose swab consists of a 6-inch long swab (like a Q-tip) inserted into both nostrils one at a time (to maximize sample extraction) and goes all the way back to the tube that connects the nose to the lungs (nasopharyngeal tube). Swab samples from the nose as well as the throat can tell labs if the coronavirus is present. While an accurate predictor of the infection, the swab test is costlier and fewer in number and is only useful in tracking current infection.

Given the nature of the virus, and how new it is, the scientific community is still studying, developing, and testing new methods of prediction, analysis and cure for the virus. In the meantime, the best we can do is stay indoors and practise social distancing guidelines. If you or someone you know has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, please follow the NHS guidelines for self-isolation. Get on an online video consultation with a Gogodoc GP to get expert medical advice if you are unsure of what to do. Our qualified GPs are available as early as the same day – book your appointments through the website or by downloading our app.

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