Covid-19 Coronavirus PCR test kit: The Covid Testing Craze
Over the last few months we saw the lockdown restrictions starting to ease, our favourite pubs and gyms starting to open back up and welcoming us with open arms, enticing us with a whisper of what life used to be like pre - Covid, remember those days? Well, there's every chance that I have been seeing the world through some rose tinted specs. At the time of writing this, cases of Covid across the UK are rocketing, local lockdowns are in place, and Nicola Sturgeon has made us all go sober in October. Some of us are fortunate enough to escape the UK and get a little winter sun, and whilst your passport is of utmost importance, a Covid fit to fly test is equally as needed in your sunny adventure. In this week's article, we take a look at Covid testing, what the test consists of and why it may come useful to those needing access to a private test.
There are two main types of coronavirus testing – those that can detect the presence of the virus currently and those that detect a previous response to the virus by your immune system.
Only one test is currently being used widely – the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. This test is used for patients and NHS staff, as well as in the community, and it gives you a fairly accurate indication of whether or not you are infected with coronavirus currently. The antigen test is a different test that can also tell you if you are currently infected, but it is much less accurate than the PCR test and not yet in wide use. The antibody test is still being developed for wider use and its result can indicate that you may have previously had coronavirus.
The PCR test looks for evidence that the virus is currently in your body, by detecting the presence of its RNA in a swab sample from your nose/throat. The PCR test detects the genetic material in the virus called RNA. When the sample reaches the lab, a solution known as a ‘reagent’ is added to it. If there is a virus present this reagent starts a ‘chain reaction’ and creates billions of copies of the genetic material in the virus so that there is enough that it can be detected and analysed by scientists to provide a positive result.
The PCR test can therefore only tell us if the virus is currently present in the body. This test is also known as a swab test. Sometimes PCR tests are also incorrectly referred to as ‘antigen tests’ but these are slightly different. With the correct swab technique, the results are accurate and will produce a reliable result. The test has the sensitivity of 98% and a specificity of 100%. All samples are analysed using the PCR technique, which is the preferred testing method approved by Public Health England.
Another type of Covid test is the antibody test that has been widely covered in the media because it has the potential to tell us a lot about who might have previously been infected with coronavirus. Different types of antibodies are produced by the immune system in response to ‘foreign’ invaders in the body, such as viruses, and these antibodies stay in the body after the infection has ended. Antibodies are quite specific to the type of virus and can provide immunity against catching the virus again. It is not currently known how long coronavirus antibodies stay in the body. For more information about antibody testing, take a look at our article on antibody testing.
Your testing kit includes a swab that you initially use in your mouth, and then your nose. Once you have taken your sample you send it off to the labs that are regulated by Public Health England where they will test to see if Covid is present in the sample. You should normally hear back within about 2 or 3 working days once the sample has been received, and sent either a text message or email with your results. Now, if you receive a positive result, this means that you are currently infected with COVID-19, and you could pose a risk to others around you. Therefore, you should self-isolate immediately, and inform those you have been in contact within the last 7 days in case this result affects them.
With already a huge burden on the NHS this year, and instead of having to wait in long queues to get a Covid test, you now have the luxury of being able to test yourself in the privacy and ease of your own home. For those flying away to sunnier climates, it is essential than you get a Covid test before you fly. For popular destinations, you must produce evidence of results from a test taken within 72-hours of your flight, but please check with your travel agent before travelling to the airport. These tests will give you the necessary certification that will allow you to enter these countries with no restrictions. In the UK, you cannot use public transportation if you have the virus or if you have the symptoms. Therefore, getting tested is essential for anyone planning on travelling overseas.
It is worth remembering that whilst the main symptoms of Covid-19 are a persistent cough, a fever, and a change in sense of taste and smell, there are many people out there that are known as asymptomatic, i.e. displaying no obvious symptoms of the disease or virus. So whether you are flying away on holiday, or just want some peace of mind if you have Covid or not - it makes sense to buy a home testing kit to keep yourself sane!
Author: Matthew Jennings
Clinically Reviewed By:
Ibrahim Nakib BSc(Hons) MRPharmS