Rapid covid testing has gained popularity and widespread acceptance as another method for testing COVID-19 within and outside the health care setting. It has been a critical element in the control of coronavirus pandemic across the globe, particularly in states that registered high numbers of covid 19 patients.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by SARS-CoV-2. Most patients infected with the coronavirus report mild to moderate symptoms and heal without special medical care. However, patients with pre-existing health problems like high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes may experience adverse effects. But, note that anyone can contract the virus, become ill or even die, regardless of their age.
One of the best ways to curb coronavirus spread is testing and isolation. There are two common types of tests used to detect a coronavirus infection.
Polymerase chain reaction test (PCR), also known as a molecular test or diagnostic test, is the standard type of test strictly done in a laboratory. The second type is the rapid or antigen test that doesn't require laboratory analysis.
Coronavirus testing has been part of everyone's conversation in the past two years or so. However, most people don't understand the difference between the two tests. This article will discuss how covid rapid test works and its benefits compared to lab-based covid testing.
Rapid Antigen Tests
Typically, rapid COVID-19 tests are antigen tests. They are specially designed to identify an antigen for SARS-CoV-2 and can be performed anywhere without a laboratory specialist or equipment.
In a nutshell, rapid coronavirus tests are performed at; home using at home covid test kits, airports, doctor's offices, drive-through testing sites, pharmacies, theme parks, learning institutions, within companies, and other crowded areas.
During the test, you will collect a sample of mucus and cells from your throat or nose using a swab, then mix it with some liquid. You will then pour a sample drop on a test strip that shows the presence or absence of the COVID-19 virus.
The test strip features antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 that identify and attach to foreign substances like antigens. So, when the antibodies react to the antigens, a thin colored line appears on the test strip, showing the presence of the COVID 19 virus.
Rapid tests are pretty convenient. They are easy to use, don't require expert knowledge, and provide results within a few minutes; typically, 15 minutes. Rapid tests are also affordable; you will pay approximately 10 to 15 dollars per test.
In contrast, lab tests require lab technicians and equipment. In addition, it will take you approximately 12 hours to a few days to receive the results. And if you are not lucky enough to get a free lab test, you will probably pay more than $100 for a single test.
When Can You Use Rapid Tests?
You should get tested if you experience any symptoms of COVID-19, even if you have received all the necessary vaccines.
Note that coronavirus spreads quickly and easily, even before noticing any symptoms. Therefore, the sooner you know if you have the virus, the better since you can isolate and reduce the chances of spreading it to others.
Early screening is also essential since some drugs work better when administered in the early stages of the infection, immediately when the symptoms start to show.
Sometimes you may test negative for the virus but still feel unwell, indicating a false negative. In such a scenario, you should isolate and contact your doctor to analyze your symptoms. However, if you test positive, you should immediately isolate and contact your healthcare provider to start the treatment plan.
If you have had close contact with an infected individual but don't experience any symptoms, your vaccination status determines your next move. According to the CDC, you should do a test after five to seven days if you are vaccinated against the virus. And if you aren't vaccinated, you should get a test immediately after the exposure.
Accuracy of the Rapid Tests
As is the case with other respiratory viruses, it may take a few days for the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, to build up in the body. Several days after exposure, the viral protein load is relatively low, meaning that a rapid test might not identify the infection.
However, experts recommend serial testing to confirm the results, approximately 2 to 3 tests within a week. Studies show that several antigen tests are as accurate as one PCR test.
Generally, rapid antigen tests are accurate and even more accurate when the amount of virus in the body is high or when the patient is infectious.
Antibody Rapid Test
A rapid antibody test also referred to as a serology test, is designed to identify the antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 in a patient's blood. This test doesn't detect coronavirus infection, instead, it shows whether or not the patient had a past covid disease or their immune system produced antibodies after vaccination.
Antibodies protect the body and fight many infections. However, some people still get reinfected even with high levels of antibodies. In addition, an antibody test isn't a diagnostic test; hence not as urgent as a rapid antigen test.
The timing of the test affects accuracy; you should conduct the test at least two to three weeks after experiencing the first symptoms.
After recovering from COVID 19, you can do an antibody test to determine whether you qualify to donate plasma to a patient who has severe symptoms. The plasma can enhance a patient's ability to recover from coronavirus infection.
In addition, a rapid antibody test shows the number of individuals that had the virus and recovered. The results are vital, especially when researching COVID 19 infections within a specific population.
Rapid Test and the Omicron Variant
Rapid antigen tests perform well with the omicron variant, just like the previous variants, because antigens do not change with the different COVID 19 variants.
Purpose of Rapid Covid Test
Health professionals conduct screening to identify individuals infected with the virus in a specific population. Members of this population may not show any symptoms, or their exposure to the virus may not be known. Therefore, screening testing is performed to pick out infectious persons to isolate and begin treatment and stop further transmission.
Additionally, rapid antigen tests can be done as screening tests for individuals exposed to the virus but show zero symptoms of coronavirus disease. The screening tests that turn positive are further confirmed using a lab test.
Usually, screening tests are necessary under various circumstances, including contact tracing, household contact, and COVID 19 outbreaks in populations like schools, events, and other institutions.
Surveillance testing is crucial when collecting data about COVID 19 infection distribution. Those in need of the information further characterize the data by place, time, and person and document epidemiologic trends.
Patients undergo diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of COVID 19 respiratory disease. When patients test positive for a rapid antigen test, they are isolated and start treatment immediately.
Advantages of Rapid Covid Testing
Medical professionals, business owners, and individuals harness rapid COVID 19 testing to quickly ascertain the cause of covid -related symptoms and begin isolation and treatment if necessary. Check out some of the advantages of rapid testing:
Ensures Effective Isolation
There are numerous challenges facing the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. One of the significant challenges is that individuals infected with the virus are usually infectious even before they experience any symptoms like fever or headaches.
Fortunately, healthcare providers can use rapid testing to diagnose as many covid cases as possible before the virus spreads to the larger population. In addition, these tests are beneficial in public spaces where people work together, and one or a few colleagues have tested positive.
Rapid testing ensures that the few positive individuals are isolated from everyone else in the group until they recover.
Simple to Use
You don't have to be a medical professional to carry out a rapid covid test. In fact, you can do it with your family using at home covid test kit.
Rapid covid test kits are portable. Plus, the flexibility to test from any location outside the laboratory means health professionals can respond to an outbreak and control the spread of the virus within a short period.
Additionally, the rapid covid test requires little to no special equipment-This is particularly useful in marginalized areas with minimal access to laboratories or regions with limited resources.
Mitigates Economic Impact
Besides the health effects of the coronavirus pandemic, another challenge is its economic impact caused by the closure of workplaces and learning institutions.
With rapid testing, individuals exposed to the virus receive their test results within a few hours, meaning that they don't have to isolate for long or miss numerous workdays as they wait to receive their test results.
In addition, faster results ensure that those infected with the virus receive treatment soon before severe symptoms kick in. As a result, patients can resume their day-to-day duties sooner.
While rapid COVID 19 tests feature a lower sensitivity than typical laboratory tests, their contribution to the fight against the covid virus is extensive. Of course, if a rapid test turns positive, you can always confirm the results with a lab test. But you will isolate and receive the necessary treatment as you wait for the outcome.
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