Unlocking” COVID-19: the use and misuse of tests - European Science-Media  Hub

There’s a growing variety and availability of tests related to SARS-CoV-2. All types of tests can help healthcare providers make more accurate diagnosis, support better management of individual patients and provide better guidance to manage population risk.

Active infection is detected with

RT-PCR tests detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 based on its genetic make up (RNA). These tests have high sensitivity useful for detecting infection early. Antigen tests detect certain proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These tests are easy to perform, with very fast results.

Past infection is detected with antibody tests measuring the body’s immune response to SARS-CoV-2 antigens, for instance the nucleocapsid or the spike protein.

The choice of the test depends also on the testing location

Clinical or medical labs offer a wide range of tests for many patient samples obtained elsewhere and sent to the lab, where the instruments  are usually highly automated and designed to process large numbers of patient samples.

Near-patient or Point of Care (PoC) facilities like doctors’ offices or emergency departments usually offer a limited range of tests for individual patients visiting the facility. The tests for PoC facilities are designed for smaller testing volumes, with shorter time to test results, helping expedite clinical decision making. They can be used in settings around the world.

The selection of the appropriate test also depends on the respective question one wants to answer.

Physicians and other healthcare professionals need

  • Testing for symptomatic patients to potentially guide treatment
  • Managing exposed individuals and essential workers
  • Testing of asymptomatic individuals to contain disease spread and potentially manage outbreaks

Researchers need

  • Understanding disease prevalence in order to advise governments, health institutions and healthcare industry
  • Identifying recovering patients who could potentially be serum and plasma donors for developing treatments for COVID-19
  • Supporting the development of vaccines through tests that measure levels of antibodies to the virus
  • Helping with the development of treatments for infected patients

Governments and health institutions need

  • Identifying active or past infections to support better decision making and pandemic management
  • Help facilitate contact tracing and surveillance
  • Expand access to testing
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