The UK seems to be on course to meet its goal of vaccinating 15 million people against COVID 19 by mid-February. Even as this commendable campaign continues, winning the fight against this virus will require concerted efforts from all fronts.  

One, we must continue observing strict adherence to COVID 19 guidelines issued by the government. These include wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and washing/sanitizing our hands often. 

Secondly, continuous testing for Covid-19 for as many people as possible will help identify those already infected with the virus and protect those at risk. Testing is particularly crucial now with the emergence of new Coronavirus variants, such as the Kent Variant.

Why is testing important?

As mentioned, one of the most significant reasons for conducting COVID 19 testing is to identify those already exposed to the virus so that they can get the necessary care. If you get a positive COVID test, you will isolate yourself, reducing the chances of infecting other people. 

A positive result also prompts those you have been in contact with to seek testing. Early testing can drastically reduce the severity of the disease and guarantee a full recovery.

According to the NHS, most people transmitting the SARS-CoV-2 virus are asymptomatic, meaning that they do not openly display any symptoms. Testing can help identify asymptomatic cases and reduce the spread of infections. 

3 Types of COVID 19 Tests

When it comes to COVID testing, there may be some lingering confusion. This is because different COVID 19 tests return different results, depending on what the test was looking for.  Primarily, a COVID test could be checking whether you have an active infection or if you had the virus at a previous point. 

 To this end, there are three types of COVID 19 tests, as discussed below:

The Molecular Test (PCR/ RNA Test)

This is a diagnostic test designed to detect active infection. It is reputed to be highly accurate, and due to its sensitivity, requires only a small sample to give results. The sample is typically extracted with a swab in the nose or throat, although some tests are now using saliva. 

The molecular test works by detecting the RNA (genetic material) of the Coronavirus. It can detect this genetic material before any antibodies are formed or any symptoms appear. 

Another advantage is that it can pick up even the tiniest amounts of RNA in the early stages of an infection. This particular test will, however, not show whether you had COVID 19 previously. The molecular test can give results in as little as a few minutes. It can also take longer depending on whether the sample is analyzed on-site or sent to another location.

There are two main types of Molecular tests:

PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Test- This is a highly specialized form of the test, often carried out in specialized labs. Results are not immediate and can take a few days.

Rapid point-of-care molecular Test– This test is easy to administer and does not require examination in a health care setting (such as a lab). Like its name, it gives results in under two hours.

With the arrival of home testing kits, you can now take a sample at the comfort of your home and send it to a lab overnight. When do you do the test at home, follow all the instructions strictly to ensure that you get the correct results.

The molecular test can immediately show who is infected with the Coronavirus, aiding in isolation and treatment efforts.

The Antigen (Rapid) Test

Like the Molecular test, the rapid Antigen test is also a diagnostic test designed to detect an active Coronavirus infection. It requires a nose or throat swab and works by detecting specific proteins in the Coronavirus.  Unlike the Molecular test, it gives results much faster and is also cheaper to produce. This makes it ideal for mass screening. 

One major downside is that an Antigen test can easily miss an active infection, bringing back a negative result. When all instructions are followed to the latter, a positive result should be considered accurate. In case of doubts, a Molecular test may be requested to confirm a negative result.

The Antibody Test (serology/blood test)

An antibody test is designed to detect whether the body has developed any antibodies in response to COVID 19. Antibodies are blood proteins that the body produces to counteract or fight an antigen or foreign substance, in this case, the Coronavirus. In other words, it checks whether you may have contracted COVID19 at some point in the past. As such, the antibody test cannot be used to detect active infection. 

Health experts caution that a positive antibody test is not a confirmation of immunity against the virus. Research on this is still ongoing, and even with a positive test, you must continue taking all COVID 19 precautions as directed.  

For the most part, this test can indicate the prevalence of COVID 19 within a population or an area, aiding in prevention efforts.

Where can I get tested for COVID 19?

The NHS offers various avenues to get tested for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID 19. These include:

Test sites– If you have Coronavirus symptoms, you can go to any drive/walk through testing site near you. If you don’t know where the nearest site is, you can find out by calling 119 or booking online.

Home tests– Technology around COVID 19 is evolving quite fast, and it is now possible for you to take a test in the comfort of your home. The NHS can send you a home test kit upon request. 

Rapid lateral flow test– This test is mainly done on people who do not show any COVID 19 symptoms. It can be administered at work, school, or by your local council, and gives results in 30 minutes. Mobile testing units– The government has dispatched mobile testing units to various areas of the UK. They concentrate on mass sites with essential workers such as prisons, police stations, and fire stations.

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