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COVID-19 Testing

There are several ways to test for the presence of the COVID-19 virus in the body. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is used by medical clinics. A nasal or oral swab is collected which is then analyzed by a laboratory. For quick testing that can be done by individuals, there are rapid lateral flow tests, which can go by many other names such as Rapid Antigen Test (RAT), which can give results in minutes.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Test

The Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR test, is used to detect genetic material of the virus in the swab sample.

equipment required: cotton bud, collection tube.

sample collection procedure: A tissue sample from the respiratory tract is collected, using a nasal or oral swab. A cotton bud is inserted into the nasal or oral cavity, and made to contact with the walls of the nose or mouth to collect a sample of mucus. The sample is stored and sent to the laboratory for analysis.

results: results can take days in the case of laboratory tests. The test result is either positive or negative. A positive test means you likely have COVID-19, a negative result means you probably did not have COVID-19 at the time of the test. The test is not 100% accurate. If you have or develop COVID symptoms, it may be worth testing again.

a nasal swab being collecteda nasal swab being collected

Rapid Lateral Flow (RAT) Test

Lateral flow tests can be self-administered and can give results in minutes, but may be less accurate than the PCR tests. In this test, if the target antigen is present in sufficient concentrations in the sample, it will bind to specific antibodies and generate a visually detectable line on the test strip. The common pregnancy test is an example of a lateral flow test.

equipment required: rapid lateral flow test kit (RAT), which may include a cotton bud or saliva receptacle, mixing tube, and test strip.

sample collection procedure: a cotton bud is used to collect a nasal or oral sample, or saliva is collected. A solution is mixed with the mucus sample, then a couple of drops are applied to the test strip. More detailed instructions will be supplied with the test kit.

test procedure: After the sample is added to the test strip, wait 15-30 minutes. A positive result is represented by the presence of a colored line at the test line position (denoted by the letter T). There should be a line at the control position (letter C), which indicates the test is working properly. If there is no line at the C position, the test strip should be discarded and another test conducted.

results: A positive test means you likely have COVID-19. A negative result means you probably did not have COVID-19 at the time of the test.

a rapid antigen test strip a rapid antigen test strip

note: PCR tests are more accurate than RAT tests. All tests can produce either false-negative or false-positive results. If you are showing symptoms of a COVID-19 infection, please seek appropriate medical assistance.

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