Differentiating and understanding the differences in available tests?

In today’s world, COVID-19 is one of the most emerging and rapidly evolving topics being discussed. COVID-19 is one of the many diseases that is caused by a family of viruses called Coronaviruses.

The specific Coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease is SARS-CoV-2. On top of potentially being extremely debilitating, the disease is also highly contagious. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a single individual who contracts COVID-19 will infect roughly 2 to 2.5 other individuals. This makes it vital for early detection in those that are infected by the virus.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a single individual who contracts COVID-19 will infect roughly 2 to 2.5 other individuals.

Businesses (non-healthcare) might place risk to employees by remaining open during the COVID-19 pandemic, without proper safety precautions, as they have the potential to come in contact with many individuals throughout the day while being in enclosed quarters. This raises concern for appropriate testing in order to help reduce the spread of disease.

But what are the different tests being utilized to identify people that are infected? The purpose of this article is to help differentiate between the two types of COVID-19 tests and help educate businesses on the decision of which test to adopt.

Viral tests: Molecular and antigen tests

Currently, there are two different types of tests that are related to SARS-CoV-2 infection. The first type of test is a viral test. These specific types of tests are utilized to diagnose current infection with SARS-CoV-2, the particular Coronavirus that causes COVID-19. There are two different types of viral tests that can help distinguish people with current infection and those without: Molecular (RT-PCR) tests and antigen tests.

RT-PCR, or molecular tests, detect the viruses genetic material, while antigen (rapid diagnostic) tests detect specific proteins on the surface of the virus.

Molecular tests are the most commonly used due to the test being highly accurate and given that re-testing is usually not needed. On the other hand, antigen tests carry the risk of a higher false negative rate.

Molecular tests are the most commonly used due to the test being highly accurate and re-testing is usually not needed, while antigen tests carry the risk of a higher false negative rate.

One advantage that antigen tests do have over molecular tests is the timing of results. Individuals being examined using antigen tests usually get the results within one hour, whereas molecular tests may take a day or up to a week.

Samples from both tests are taken by nasal or throat swab. The most important aspect to know from these two viral tests is what they can’t tell you:

  • A molecular test cannot show if an individual has ever had a SARS-CoV-2 infection in the past.
  • An antigen test cannot definitively rule out active SARS-CoV-2 infection and cannot establish if one has had the infection in the past.

The second type of test is called an antibody test

The second type of test that is related to SARS-CoV-2 detection is called an antibody test. Antibody tests look for antibodies that are made by the immune system in response to a threat, which in this case is a specific viral infection. Antibodies help fight infections, but their development within the body may take several days or weeks and may stay in the blood for several weeks after recovery.

For this reason, this test should not be used to diagnose an active SARS-CoV-2 infection. The sample from this test is from a finger stick or blood draw and results are often available within one to three days. Overall, antibody tests show if an individual has been infected by SARS-CoV-2 in the past, while not being able to prove the presence of an active SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Antibody tests show if an individual has been infected by SARS-CoV-2 in the past, while not being able to prove the presence of an active SARS-CoV-2 infection.

In a nutshell

COVID-19 is a rapidly spreading disease and is of huge concern to many individuals and businesses around the globe. Currently, there are two different types of tests available that help detect the presence of a SARS-CoV-2 infection. The main difference between the two tests is identifying the specific time the infection occurred. Viral tests are more reliable in distinguishing someone who is currently infected and someone who is not. Antibody tests are more reliable in revealing if an individual has been exposed to the infection in the past.

For which ever test being utilized, it is extremely important that it is FDA approved to ensure appropriate accuracy and effectiveness.