A simplified explanation of coronavirus testing and the science behind it
By Nuno Balbino Reifschneider
The coronavirus situation is currently very bad, and if we don’t take action it will get worse. Having a basic understanding of tests is also very important. Taking a test is an action that should be carefully considered.
In this article, I will talk about Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAAT) and the Serological tests. NAAT’s detect the virus, but the Serological test detects antibodies, which can tell if you had previously had contact with the virus and developed protection against it. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body as a response to other harmful substances called antigens.
What are Nucleic Acids?
Nucleic Acids are biomolecules essential to forms of life. DNA and RNA are one of them. They were discovered by Friedrich Miescher in 1869. Other researchers have made important progress including Albrecht Kossel, Richard Altmann, Astbury and Bell, Watson, and Crick.
How do the tests work?
In a simplified manner, the NAAT works by identifying the presence of RNA from the virus using Real-Time Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction, or rRT-PCR, (using a nasal swab). According to Al Jazeera, the testing process can take up to 3-4 hours, with results available to patients within several days in most countries.
The serological test used in Covid-19 testing is called ELISA or EIA and it uses blood samples to detect the presence of antibodies against the virus. ELISA can also be used to test other viral diseases. It has been used in many cases, including airlines, because the viruses spread very easily on planes. The serological test is very useful because it is fast. It normally takes 20 minutes.
How should people be tested?
It is known that there are two good ways to test people. The first one is to randomly test individuals. It was estimated that, to properly use this method in the USA, they would need to test more than 10 million people per day. The other method is contact tracing, which is to find out people who have been in contact with the virus and then test them. This method is harder to execute, but requires significantly fewer tests.
You should stay at home unless you absolutely need to leave, in order to avoid spreading the virus. This may seem obvious, but it is of paramount importance. Preventing the unnecessary use of tests is also crucial, due to the limited amount of tests.
Sources/What to Read.
Siddiqui, Usaid. “Coronavirus Testing Methods: What You Need to Know.” News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 7 Apr. 2020, www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/coronavirus-testing-methods-200330142718434.html.