Common Questions You Need to Know about COVID-19 Testing

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COVID-19 Testing
BROCKTON - AUGUST 13: A nurse practitioner administers COVID-19 tests in the parking lot at Brockton High School in Brockton, MA under a tent during the coronavirus pandemic on Aug. 13, 2020. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

With COVID-19 spreading rapidly, most people become scared they have gotten the coronavirus when they have flu-like symptoms or a cough. It is important to know COVID-19 symptoms and when to start worrying about being infected. Knowing the difference between COVID19 symptoms and the flu, cold or other allergies is also essential, so you don’t worry unnecessarily about having COVID-19.

When you know the COVID-19 symptoms, you’ll also know whether you need to contact your health provider or not. It also helps you know the right time to take vital steps, such as getting the antigen test for COVID-19 or PCR test to protect your health and other people around you.

Why should you get a COVID-19 test?

The right time to get the test is when you experience the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

You should also get the test if you had close contact (about six feet or two metres for more than 15 minutes) with a confirmed COVID-19 case, regardless of your symptoms or not.

COVID-19 symptoms can take between 2 to 14 days for symptoms to show. Some people may have the coronavirus and not show symptoms even with an active infection – the COVID test will help prevent the spread of the virus if you are infected but remain unaware.

Where can I get the test

Different information is available about what you should do or experience before you can get the COVID test. However, the steps needed to get the COVID-19 test vary depending on where you would get the test.

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus and think that you are infected, contact your healthcare provider for direction on how to get tested. Many urgent care centres and clinics offering immediate healthcare services offer COVID testing, and you may not need a pre-screening to get tested.

Some care centres offer virtual screening with certified health care providers. You may also get the COVID test at a community drive through testing sites.

What is the difference between the available COVID tests?

Three types of COVID-19 tests are available. They include:

  • Antibody (serology) testing
  • Antigen testing
  • Polymerase chain reaction

The available testing works differently. Determining the test you need would depend on a few factors:

  • The most accessible test
  • Whether you plan on donating your plasma after recovery
  • Whether the test is a diagnostic tool or not

Different testing centres offer different tests. Before you choose a testing centre, ensure they provide the COVID-19 testing.

PCR test

The gold standard for COVID testing is the PCR test. A PCR test checks whether you have a current infection or not at the time of testing. This test gives only a few false positives and false negatives.

A false positive test occurs when the patient tests positive but not infected, while a false negative shows a negative result when the person does not have the coronavirus. \

The PCR test uses a nasopharyngeal swab sample which the lab scientist processes to get a result. It can take between 24 hours to a few days to receive the test result.

A positive PCR test result means you currently have a COVID-19 infection or recently had the coronavirus.

A negative PCR test means you did not have the coronavirus at the time of testing, but you can contract the virus after testing.

Antigen test

The COVID-19 antigen test is also a diagnostic test like the PCR test. It helps determine if you have an active COVID-19 infection.  The antigen test gives result within a shorter time and requires fewer resources compared to the PCR test. However, it is less sensitive, leading to a higher chance of false-negative results than the PCR test. This means your antigen test may be negative, but you have an active infection.

The health provider may take a throat or nasal swab for the antigen test. Some point of care centres will test the swab sample while you wait to get the result, or they may have to send the test to a lab for testing.

A positive antigen test result indicates the presence of the COVID-19 virus, while a negative result means you may not have a current infection. If you have a negative antigen test result and your symptoms persist, get the PCR test to confirm your result.

A positive antigen test is reliable, but a negative antigen test result does not confirm you do not have the coronavirus. With the higher false negatives from the antigen test, you need a PCR test to verify your negative antigen test.

COVID-19 antibody test

An antibody test can determine whether you recently had COVID-19, but it does not diagnose an active infection. The antibody test is primarily used to determine which recovered patient can donate convalescent plasma to treat critically ill COVID patient.

A positive antibody test means you had a recent COVID-19 infection. However, the test may not detect the antibodies until about 4 – 5 days from the onset of symptoms. A positive antibody test does not say for sure that you had a previous infection.

The antibody test can give a false-positive result. In this case, someone who hasn’t had the coronavirus may have a positive antibody test.

A negative antibody test may indicate you have not had COVID-19, but a false positive may show that you have. However, a negative test result does not mean you haven’t had the coronavirus. There are many things about immunity that are still unclear, including how long the antibodies can provide immunity for a previously infected person.

What will happen after a positive COVID-19 test?

If you have a positive result, you would have to self-isolate for about 14 days. During the isolation period, you need to stay at home, in a separate room from other household members.

If you start showing COVID-19 symptoms or have close contact with an infected person, you will need to self-isolate when you get tested until your result is available. Meanwhile, some tests may take about a week. Ensure you remain at home to avoid spreading the virus even if you don’t feel sick.

Most people experience mild COVID-19 symptoms that do not need treatment in a healthcare facility. Taking pain and cough medications at home, staying hydrated, and resting can help treat mild symptoms. You should follow some pain management procedures in COVID-19.

If your test result is negative, ensure you continue to stay safe and adhere to all preventive measures such as excellent hand hygiene, social distancing, and wearing a face mask.

If you have symptoms or concerns about COVID-19, ensure you contact your healthcare provider. You can book your appointment for COVID test in London.

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