In February 2019, the novel coronavirus was yet undiscovered and unnamed. But on December 30, 2019, samples were collected in Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital from a patient with what the World Health Organization described as “pneumonia of unknown etiology,” and SARS-CoV-2 — what we know today as COVID-19 — was identified.
Since then, researchers and scientists around the world have been developing tests specific to the virus. America’s first testing method became available at the end of January 2020, and COVID-19 testing has continued to evolve in several ways since.
Types of Tests
Just as mRNA vaccine technology had previously existed, some coronavirus testing methods have been utilized in the past. But since COVID-19’s discovery, all have been thoroughly adapted at a remarkable and life-saving rate to assess this new virus.
Used previously by epidemiologists to determine the prevalence of disease, serological testing measures the level of blood antibodies present as the body combats specific infections. A blood sample collected from the patient identifies those who have previously been infected, are actively fighting the virus, or who may possibly have become immune.
Isothermal Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAATs):
Rapid, simple, and affordable, NAATs detect the presence of nucleic acids in viral RNA. “Amplifying those nucleic acids enables NAATs to detect very small amounts of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in a specimen,” the CDC explains, “making these tests highly sensitive for diagnosing COVID-19.” Typically performed via nasal or oral swab at a laboratory by trained personnel, test result times range from less than an hour to 24-48 hours.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Tests
Now considered the “gold standard” of COVID testing, PCR tests are highly accurate, as they extract and replicate viral DNA from a patient via nose or throat swab. Laboratory multiplication of even the smallest amount of DNA clearly identifies the virus’s presence, but because specialized equipment is required, results may take 5-7 days to produce.
Antigen (Rapid) Tests
“Antigen-detection systems have had a relatively long and successful history,” a June 2021 report by the Taiwan Society of Microbiology asserts. This test can produce results within a short time frame by detecting specific proteins found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 virus cells. “Although antigen tests are very specific, they are less sensitive, and thus less reliable, than PCR tests,” The COVID Tracking Project warns, so repeat testing may be advised.
Whether results are obtained quickly or over a longer period of time, COVID testing remains important to control the spread of the virus, and monitor vaccine effectiveness.
Where and How to Get Tested
Initially COVID-19 testing in the United States was performed by the CDC alone, but developments quickly allowed state health and private laboratories, hospitals, clinics, and local pharmacies to conduct them. Approval of over-the-counter (OTC) tests by the FDA in March 2021 also provided schools, offices, and apartment communities more than one option for accurate and reliable testing. At-home tests have now become widely available to the public, allowing citizens to monitor their own COVID-19 infection levels.
“Now, researchers are working on several laboratory-supported approaches to diagnosing long COVID by identifying biomarkers that pop up with post-COVID-19 uncontrolled immune system activation,” the American Association for Clinical Chemistry reports. Long-term COVID symptoms have puzzled scientists, researchers, and those impacted by it, but this application of a testing method called flow cytometry may provide answers.
For rapid, accurate COVID PCR testing for your patients, LifeBrite Labs can provide quality, consistent results. Please schedule an appointment by calling (678) 433-0607 or connecting with us online.
Learn more about LifeBrite
Atlanta-based LifeBrite, led by CEO Christian Fletcher, operates LifeBrite Community Hospital of Early, LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes, and Lifebrite Laboratories.