In early 2020, the world faced an unprecedented crisis. People around the world suffered from a viral disease with innocuous symptoms. The most common symptoms of this deadly virus were a dry cough and flu. The rising death count increased public hysteria. So, people treated every cough or runny nose as a potential case of COVID.
Early and rapid testing during public health emergencies is the ideal way to identify patients. Testing also helps trace cases for quick treatment and containment procedures.
Testing can also answer fundamental questions about an unknown virus and improve understanding of the phenomenon. Public health experts use this data to develop interventions and responses.
An overwhelming demand for testing during the early days of the pandemic
During the pandemic, testing procedures were initially unable to rise to the challenge of overwhelming demand. The fragmented healthcare system and overworked testing facilities could not cope with the needs.
As the death count began to rise, healthcare leaders felt the need to improve diagnostics. Fortunately, within a few days, governments ramped up testing. But, there are different types of tests for COVID.
Different types of tests
The main tests to detect COVID are RT PCR, Antigen, and Antibody Testing. While none of these tests is 100 percent accurate, some are more reliable compared to others.
The gold standard is the RT-PCR test which tests particles from the throat of the patient. However, this test only tells whether a person has a live virus. Testing requires sophisticated equipment and trained staff.
Comparatively, Antigen tests reveal if a person is suffering from the virus. Technicians collect swabs from the nose of the patient to look for antigen proteins. Unlike RT-PCR, the Antigen test is a rapid COVID test with a 15 minute result time. But, this test is prone to false negatives. So, patients must be careful not to rule out infections.
Antibody tests look for COVID antibodies within the bloodstream of the patient. So, a positive test means one of the two things.
The test may have a positive result because you had COVID in the past, and your body has created antibodies to fight the virus. Doctors do not recommend getting an antibody test as it does not tell doctors if the person still has the virus.
Improving testing procedures
Fortunately, COVID tests have improved since March of 2020. Experts have simplified testing and made it more accurate and fast. There are also several testing options available. But, some are still concerned about the accuracy of the tests and the necessity to get a COVID test.
Experts believe that there is little harm in getting tested for COVID. Early testing can help prevent long-lasting damage to the vital organs of the patient. However, patients have to maintain a balance between getting a test too early or too late.
Here are some questions for patients to consider before getting their COVID test.
When should I request a COVID test?
There is a lot of data about the best time to get a COVID test. Unfortunately, most of the information is either inaccurate or misleading. The short answer is that each situation is different. Some people have more severe symptoms, while others may be asymptomatic.
Doctors recommend that people who have had contact with confirmed cases should get tested as soon as possible. As a rule of thumb, patients should get a COVID test 9 to 14 days after symptoms present.
When should I get a COVID test if I contacted someone with a patient?
Patients in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID must follow a three-pronged process.
Treat the situation as if you already have the virus. Isolate yourself for the next 10-14 days. Avoid coming into contact with other members of the household. Remember that every state has its local health guidelines about quarantining procedures. So, check the local CDC website.
Monitor your symptoms
Patients do not always present symptoms when they contract COVID. So, it may take a few days for symptoms to develop. You should keep track of your symptoms and get a test as soon as you have symptoms of the virus.
Talk to your doctor
Contact your direct care provider for advice. Ask them if you should get tested or not. They can provide you with expert advice about your situation.
When should I get a COVID test if I contacted a patient and I also have symptoms?
You should immediately get a COVID test as soon as you have symptoms after contacting someone with COVID.
What should I do if I have the flu but did not contact someone with COVID?
People with symptoms who have not come into contact with a COVID patient should talk to their doctor. It is better to discuss your symptoms with your direct care provider to ask if a test is vital.
How can I avoid misusing testing?
COVID testing can offer peace of mind from anxiety and distress. However, we must use tests carefully to avoid burdening testing facilities. Therefore it is not appropriate to get COVID tests in some scenarios.
Every time you go outside
There is a low risk of picking up the virus when you do your outside chores. So, you do not have to get a test every time you run to the grocery store or pick food from the local food joint. However, be cautious when you step outside. Follow the recommended practices when handling food or deliveries.
Whenever you get a negative test
Antigen tests are prone to false negatives. But, you should not use a negative test result as an excuse to get another test. Avoid gathering in large groups or attending parties even if you get a negative test result.
You did not contact anyone with a virus
Do not get a test because everyone is doing it. As the delta variant hits countries with another deadly mutation, there is an increase in the need for testing. The overwhelmed testing facilities are already facing delays in results because of a lack of resources. So, do not waste a precious test.
What should I do while I wait for my test result?
Testing sites are busy. So, patients may face delays in test results. Behave as if you are positive for Covid-19 while you wait for the result. Isolate yourself from others and always wear a face mask when going outside.
With death rates increasing again, we have to work to minimize the spread of the virus. We can do this by following the recommended practices by public health bodies. So, wear a mask, wash your hands after every 2 hours and practice social distancing.