March of 2021 will mark a year or so since the attitude towards COVID-19 began a radical shift in the United States. The country went from cautious to serious and widespread concern, as various countries around the world experienced the rapid spread and consequences of the virus. Since then, as far as medical advancement is concerned, there have been tremendous strides in our understanding, testing, treatment, prevention, and social mitigation of the disease.
As the nation works its way through vaccinations, many questions remain about when and how to get tested. As an Oak Lawn pediatric clinic, Pediatrics on Demand works closely with the community, providing quality child-care services and information to parents. We thought we’d revisit important information regarding COVID-19 testing.
A Close Look at the 2019 Strain of the Coronavirus
Coronaviruses have been around for a long time. There are many different kinds. They are referred to as “corona” because their microscopic qualities resemble a crown. The newly identified coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is what caused the worldwide pandemic we are all familiar with. SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Outbreaks of SARS have been seen before in China as early as 2003. They are similar types of viruses, but COVID-19 is novel and has not been seen among humans before.
What Are the Types of COVID Tests?
There are two main categories of tests: diagnostic testing and antibody testing. The diagnostic test identifies whether you have an active coronavirus infection and should proceed to isolate or quarantine. The antibody test looks for antibodies that are produced by the immune system in response to an infection.
COVID-19 PCR test
As one of the COVID-19 tests offered at Pediatrics on Demand, the PCR test is often seen as the “gold standard” of current testing, as it has proven to be the most accurate. “PCR” stands for polymerase chain reaction test and detects genetic material—or RNA—of the virus. This test is also called molecular, viral RNA, or nucleic acid test.
How Does the PCR Test Work?
- First, there is a sample collection taken from the person’s nose. A swab is inserted into the patient’s nose and collects respiratory material. The swab looks like a long Q-tip. There are nasal swabs and nasopharyngeal swabs that go further into the nasal cavity, both can be used for the PCR test. Once the swab is inserted and the sample is collected, the swab is sealed and sent off to the lab.
- Once in the laboratory, a trained lab tech receives the sample and performs a process called extraction. This separates the genetic material of any virus that might be present.
- Then, a PCR machine is used along with chemicals to amplify or copy small segments of DNA. This allows for molecular and genetic analysis. During the process, one of the chemicals used will prompt a fluorescent light if there is the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in the sample.
The Antigen Test: How Does it Work?
The antigen test is also performed with a nose or mouth swab. The process is a little different. The swabs detect a protein that is part of the coronavirus. The antigen test is faster and most appropriate for people that are at peak infection. It is slightly less accurate than the PCR test because of the lag time that exists before the antigens show up on the test.
Depending on the method being used, the swab can be tested at the testing site or has to be sent to the lab. The key with antigen testing is the timing; it is most effective and accurate when timed correctly. If a person is exposed to COVID-19 and gets an antigen test a few days later, there may not be enough detectable proteins to produce a positive. This may cause a negative result, only to have the person exhibit symptoms a few days later.
What is the Antibody Test?
When your system is infected with a virus for the first time, the immune system produces a response that is specific to that virus. These fighting cells attach to the virus and destroy it. The antibodies may take time to show up, sometimes gearing up after the virus has run its course. The most common antibody test is a blood test, but antibodies can also be present in saliva.
Pediatrics on Demand is proud to offer the antibody test to our patients. To get the antibody test, you will likely need to provide a blood sample that is then sent to the lab to test for the specific antibodies that fight SARS-CoV-2. A negative test result can mean a few things. It suggests that you were either never exposed to the virus, or you were exposed but during the time of the test your body had not yet produced enough antibodies.
An antibody test is best used to determine if a person has been infected with COVID-19 in the past. Researchers are still looking for confirmation that a positive antibody test indicates some kind of immunity to the virus. This has not yet been confirmed, especially not long-term.
Be Proactive About Your Children’s Health With Regular Visits
Pediatrics on Demand has been very active during the unprecedented year of 2020. We have helped families answer questions regarding the virus and continued to do our pediatric work. As our community continues to navigate the recovery, keep your kids healthy with their regular doctor visits and checkups.