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COVID-19 Test Comparison: What You Need To Know About Different Types Of Covid Testing

November 17, 2021
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We may recently be seeing a decline in new, active coronavirus cases and we may be learning about revolutionary upcoming cures for the dreaded virus but one thing remains clear – Covid testing is definitely here to stay. It will continue to play a big role in fighting the global pandemic and one day hopefully helps to eliminate it for good. So we all need to familiarize ourselves with Covid-19 test comparison information.

We’ve all heard the various Covid-related terminologies but not everyone fully comprehends the science. Case in point: who actually needs to be tested for Covid-19 in the first place? Plus, do you know that there are different types and purposes of Covid-19 testing? What is an rtPCR test? Why do some require nasal swabs while others only collect saliva specimens? 

We’ll tackle all of that in this article and we’ll do our best to explain everything in plain, simple terms. These details should help you understand the importance of Covid testing much clearer.

Who needs to get tested and why

First and foremost, let’s address the big question: who needs Covid testing and why?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people definitely need to get tested if they experience symptoms such as breathing difficulty, chest pain, chills, cough, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, headache, loss of smell or taste, muscle aches, nausea, runny nose, sore throat, or vomiting. 

Meanwhile, close contacts of individuals who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 should likewise receive testing, regardless whether or not they have been vaccinated. As a general rule, vaccinated individuals should get testing at least 5 to 7 days after being exposed to infection while unvaccinated individuals should be tested as soon as possible, whether they are exhibiting any of the above-mentioned symptoms or are asymptomatic.

covid-19 test comparison

Testing is crucial in order to establish if a person has contracted the virus. This helps determine whether isolation or medical treatment will be necessary. While waiting for test results, individuals should avoid potentially exposing others to the virus by staying indoors, self-isolating, and following the advice of their doctors.

In the same way, those who have previously been infected should also get tested to find out if they have acquired antibodies, which will make them eligible to donate convalescent plasma for treating other patients.

Covid-19 test comparison: different types of available testing

There are two different types of tests for Covid-19. One of them is for detecting current infection while the other is for past infection.

As its name implies, a diagnostic test – which is also known as a viral test – tells if a person is currently infected with the virus. On the other hand, an antibody test – or a serological test – is for detecting past infection. Nasal, throat, or saliva samples are typically collected for diagnostic tests while antibody tests require blood samples. 

Diagnostic test

Viral diagnostic tests are done to detect the presence of Covid-19, whether the person is experiencing symptoms or is asymptomatic (not feeling or showing any symptoms).  

A type of diagnostic test, NAAT, which stands for nucleic acid amplification test, identifies the presence of ribonucleic acid (RNA) sequence in the body. Meanwhile, an rt-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test is one of the fastest, most accurate ways to detect the virus and is done by collecting saliva samples by spitting into a tube or by swabbing the inside of the nose (nasal) or the back of the throat (oral). 

Antibody test

As for antibody testing, one important distinction is that it is not done to detect active infection but rather past infection. The individual is tested for antibodies, which are a result of the body’s response to Covid-19. With the antibodies, an individual would have a stronger immune system and can even donate convalescent plasma to others who may be struggling to combat Covid-19.

Still, it should be remembered that not everyone who has tested positive for the virus ends up having antibodies: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly said that it remains unknown “how long antibodies stay in the body following infection with the virus that causes COVID-19.” 

Furthermore, the federal agency emphasized that patients should not use serology test results “as an indication that they can stop taking steps to protect themselves and others, such as stopping social distancing or discontinuing wearing masks.”

Antibody tests are performed by collecting blood from a finger prick or by drawing blood. 

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, knowing about what type of test to take can help individuals have peace of mind. So it’s important to be familiar with the different testing types available out there. 

These days, tests can be done either at medical facilities or at home (by using home testing kits). They can also be carried out on-site by trained professionals at business premises, schools, and colleges. While both diagnostic and antibody tests often yield 100% accuracy, getting a false negative result is not completely out of the question. This usually happens when the test has been done during the early stages of the infection or when there was a problem in the test or sample collection.  

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