I need to get a COVID test, but which one should I get?
As COVID restrictions continue to lift, many of us are making plans to travel, visit family members, go to summer camps, theme parks, or sporting games. These events sometimes require tests to prove that you do not have COVID. There are several different types and families of COVID tests and in many situations a specific kind of test is needed. In addition, venues and travel guidelines often require that tests be performed within a specific time frame, such as within 48 or 72 hours of the event. The challenge is then two-fold: finding out which test is required and getting a COVID test result within the correct time frame.
We offer 4 rapid COVID tests that result in under an hour:
· NAAT rt-PCR
· NAAT rt-LAMP
***Check with each agency associated with your plans to verify which rapid COVID test would be right for you and their policy. If you feel sick, but your test is negative, then it is possible that you have another infectious illness that you may spread to others.
Here is a quick guide on how to use the available testing:
If you are currently symptomatic, antigen tests can accurately determine if your symptoms are due to COVID. Antigens are found in our body when we are infected by bacteria or a virus, such as strep throat, influenza or COVID-19. Antigens rise and fall with the level of virus in the body, which means the test identifies antigens and results with a positive most accurately while you are experiencing symptoms. So, if you have symptoms and the antigen test is negative, it is unlikely that you have COVID.
However, antigens may not be detected early on in the infection while the level of the virus is low and symptoms have not yet been noticed. This means that antigen tests are often only accurate well after the time someone has already begun to be contagious. This type of test is then typically ineffective for people who are asymptomatic.
Often referred to as nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT), these tests, including PCR and LAMP, can detect infections early on, sometimes even as soon as 4 days after exposure. However, there are several disadvantages to NAAT tests, namely cost, time, and more relative false positive tests if there are low rates of COVID locally.
NAAT tests look for the genetic material of specific viruses or bacteria. When the genetic material is found, it is replicated by the test 20-40 times to amplify it to the point where it can be detected. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) was the first in this family of testing, but it has only been recently that we have seen the commercialization of more NAAT tests, with the majority of tests coming to the market since COVID, including LAMP. Since PCR is the original and most consistent result, all other NAAT testing is compared to it. Subsequently, PCR is often cited as the preferred testing in policies that were developed shortly after the pandemic started.
If you think you have had COVID, this test can help confirm your past infection by detecting whether your body has retained a “memory” of it through antibodies. When our body fights infections, it generates antibodies to attack the foreign invaders. These antibodies tag and target the virus or bacteria and tell the immune system what to destroy. Some of these antibodies will stay around for a few months or even a lifetime after the virus is gone, thereby giving us the ability to confirm past infections.
Antibody tests are also useful in determining if your COVID vaccination was effective, as you should have developed antibodies. However, this rapid test only gives historical information and therefore will not tell you if you are currently infected.