Since COVID-19 forced us to lock our doors and limit our contact with our friends and family, there has been a widespread fear that has been palpable among our contacts.
As we moved away from fear we moved towards widespread testing and, hopefully soon equally extensive vaccine use. As responsible citizens, we have come to learn a great deal about the various methods of COVID-19 testing options at healthcare facilities, doctors’ offices and private organizations. Given the myriad of testing alternatives, it can become overwhelming and confusing to know which process is best.
What is the SARS CoV-2 virus made up of?
To start, we’ll breakdown the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself into some key components that are crucial in order to understand how testing works. First is the ever-present RNA – the nucleic acid that serves as the carrier for a virus’ genetic information. This extremely small piece of the virus serves as the key stamp of identity that differs one virus from another. On the other hand, viruses may also contain molecules called antigens on their surface. These antigens are proteins that are produced by the virus and signal the body’s immune system to start making antibodies. So, these antigens cause antibodies to be made when a virus is first present, but after the first time, the body is better prepared for the viral attack. With these two components in mind, we can look at the different testing options.
What is Molecular Testing ?
Molecular testing is considered to be the most accurate and sensitive for spotting an active viral infection. In fact, the PCR (short for polymerase chain reaction) is so accurate and reliable that it has become the gold standard for testing for COVID-19, and other viruses, by scientists and doctors across the globe. There are some decisive differences between molecular testing procedures. Some procedures use the PCR method, where DNA is replicated from samples collected in saliva, or from mucus taken from the nose or throat. Another molecular test is the RT-PCR (reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction) that uses RNA as the template for replication, which is single-stranded. RT-PCR is one of the most sensitive type of PCR reaction used for the detection of gene expression. This is extremely beneficial as viruses such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus does not carry DNA, but only has RNA. Intrinsic Analytics uses the RT-PCR technique to detect the lowest count of SARS CoV-2 virus particles present in a human body. The whole process is relatively fast, with turnaround time varying from a few hours to a few days, depending on whether the sample is sent elsewhere for testing. Intrinsic Analytics uses the gold-standard RT-PCR molecular test onsite and allows for results to return in only a few hours.
What is a Rapid Test?
It is obvious from the name that this test is fast and is called a rapid test because the turnaround time is often much faster than the molecular testing, with results coming back in around an hour or less. Antigen tests also require a sample from the back of your nose or throat and are not any more or less comfortable than the PCR procedure. These point-of-care tests are beneficial when you don’t have to go to a lab for testing and they work by examining a sample for the antigen molecule that sit on the surface of the virus. Antigen tests are also relatively accurate if you test positive, but compared to the PCR, they are more likely to provide a false negative – they’re more likely to tell you that you don’t have COVID-19, even if you do. If you come into your doctors’ office with symptoms and get a negative antigen test, you may be sent for molecular PCR testing to be sure.
What is Antibody Testing?
Rather than collecting samples taken from the nose or throat, antibody testing requires blood samples to be drawn. These blood samples are examined for the presence of antibodies – produced by the immune system in response to the viral antigens. Unlike the PCR or antigen test, antibody testing does not test for active cases of COVID-19. All that it tells you, is whether you have been infected at some point in the past. Even if it occurred months ago. Unfortunately, scientists still don’t know for sure if you are likely to get re-infected by COVID-19, even if you have the antibodies.
So how do I decide?
Regardless of whether you’re symptomatic, asymptomatic or just wish to develop some peace of mind, getting a COVID-19 test is beneficial during this time. While the odds are that you won’t require an antibody test unless sent for one by a physician, choosing the right test for your needs is heavily dependent on how secure you wish for your results to be. If you wish to receive your results fast, even at the risk of false negative scores an antigen test might be more suited for you. But, if you wish for both the sensitivity and specificity of your results to be the best quality, the RT-PCR is your best choice.