Coronavirus Testing: How Accurate Are The Tests?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been raging for months in the United States. During the initial period of the pandemic, there was a lot of misinformation. For example, some thought that drinking or intravenously taking bleach would help cure the virus, when in fact the supposed treatment was toxic and even potentially deadly. Others believed that the masks that were recommended to prevent the spread of the virus were not truly helpful when it was later revealed that states which mandated the usage of masks typically had a lower transmission rate than those that didn’t. Unfortunately, a lot of that misinformation is still widely believed. Perhaps one of the most memorable issues at the beginning of the pandemic was the widespread lack of COVID-19 tests. People were frantically attempting to get tested, while in some areas they were told not to get tested unless they had symptoms due to a shortage of available tests — despite the fact that many potentially carriers of the virus are asymptomatic. Fortunately, tests are now much more available than they were previously. But lots of people don’t understand how COVID-19 testing works, and for that matter how accurate it is. The coronavirus test reliability has long been subject to debate.

There are also different types of tests available now, including tests that can diagnose whether or not you currently have the virus, and tests that can determine whether or not you’ve had the virus in the past. The first is called a diagnostic test, while the latter is called an antibody test. But how accurate are these tests? And when should you take them? All of the questions swirl around the public, and many people go without the test because they are afraid that it could hurt or may harm them. Ultimately, it’s important to consider many different factors before you get a COVID-19 test. But you shouldn’t move ahead with any misinformation. With that being said, let’s look into some of the things you should know about COVID-19 testing.

How Does A COVID-19 Test Work?

Before we dive into coronavirus test reliability questions, let’s first look into how the test works in the first place. As mentioned previously, there are two different types of coronavirus test, one of which is the diagnostic test and the other of which is the antibody test. The diagnostic test is what we’ll look at first. It can show you whether or not you should take steps to quarantine yourself, which makes it even more important in terms of stopping the spread of the virus. Within that type, there are molecular tests, which identify the virus’s genetic material, and antigen tests that detect certain proteins on top of the virus. Either way, the virus can be detected using a coronavirus test kit, which will then be used to conduct the test itself. The test has gained some notoriety for the fact that it’s not the most comfortable test to have done. However, it remains minimally invasive. The medical personnel performing the test will extract a sterile swab from the test kit, and this will more commonly be inserted into one of your nostrils. The swab will be pushed forward just enough to collect a good sample, and then turned around a couple of times to ensure that enough material has been deposited on the swab. The swab is then packaged in a sterile container and sent off to a lab for results. In the past, this took some time due to high demands of the labs, whereas now it can often take as little as two days for you to get your results back, or even less time. For that matter, in high pressure situations, COVID-19 test results can be given in as little as 15 minutes. The COVID-19 test reliability does not change based on how quickly the results are returned. When considering the molecular test in comparison to the antigen test, the molecular test has a slightly higher inaccuracy rate, but the results of a molecular test can be double-checked through a comparison with an antigen test.

Of course, as previously mentioned, a diagnostic test is not the only type of test that can be given. An antibody test can determine, through the use of lab equipment, whether or not a person has had the coronavirus in the past and now has the antibodies in their bloodstream. Research remains inconclusive regarding whether or not individuals that have had the virus retain immunity, or if so for how long that immunity lasts. But nonetheless, it’s important for people to know whether or not they have had the coronavirus so that they can report their diagnoses for the purpose of contact tracing. Unfortunately, by the time antibodies have developed within your bloodstream, you will probably be unable to take the steps to quarantine from your friends, coworkers, and family in time. Antibodies begin to develop a few days to a few weeks after you have had the virus and recovered. An antibody test is simple, similar to a diagnostic test, but it works quite differently. The sample given for an antibody test is a blood sample, drawn either from a finger prick or a draw from a vein. In fact, blood banks have recently offered to test donors’ blood for antibodies in exchange for blood donations. The antibody test, of course, is faced with questions regarding coronavirus test reliability factors. But as it is in all respects, much is being questioned about that reliability for both tests.

Which Test Should I Get?

Although you should definitely have the antibody test done if you’re concerned about whether or not you had the test in the past, it’s not nearly as important as a diagnostic test. A diagnostic test informs your current life, and lets you know whether or not you should isolate, or consult your doctor about symptoms that you may have otherwise attributed to the common cold before it became worse. An antibody test does tell you whether or not you’ve had the virus in the past, which could also inform those with questions surrounding diagnostic coronavirus test reliability issues. If you were diagnosed with the virus in the past and then have that backed up by the antibody test, this lets researchers and doctors know that the diagnostic tests are functioning as they’re meant to. But it doesn’t necessarily help you make healthier decisions in the moment, and it can project a false sense of security about the issue of immunity. As we remain uncertain about what immunity means for this virus, or if it even truly exists, we need to be careful about the confusion that can arise surrounding antibody tests.

What Do I Need To Know About Coronavirus Test Reliability?

One of the biggest questions that have arisen since the pandemic began is whether or not we can trust coronavirus test reliability. This is because the virus is simply too new for the tests to be as reliable as they would be if they’d had decades to “practice” and be refined. As previously mentioned, molecular tests are generally considered somewhat less reliable than antigen tests. But neither test is completely reliable, and different issues can affect the reliability of the tests in general. For one thing, it’s important to remember that reliability is often affected by different factors. Generally speaking, RT-PCR tests are regarded as the most accurate tests. They also are less invasive than the original swab tests that were being used when the pandemic began, which usually had to be pushed six inches into an individual’s nasal passage. A RT-PCR test is still based on swabs, but they are shallower. However, enough viral material must be present in order for this coronavirus test reliability to be as accurate as possible. Therefore, it’s ideal if the test is conducted roughly eight days following the estimated exposure or infection date. This can be difficult to determine, of course, which would affect the potential accuracy of the test. Furthermore, some people get the diagnostic test done too late or too early, which means that it will come up as negative. This is why, when a test is done very early following exposure and results in a negative result, some are encouraged to test again after a few days.

Timing is not the only thing that can affect coronavirus test reliability rates. It must also be administered correctly. While the newer tests may be somewhat less uncomfortable than the old tests, it shouldn’t be an entirely comfortable experience. In fact, some experts would say that if the rest wasn’t uncomfortable, it wasn’t done correctly. Simply put, the act of collecting viral material through the nasal passage isn’t supposed to be comfortable. If there isn’t enough viral material in a swab, there could be a false negative result. For that matter, a false positive result can be yielded if a person takes the test and has lingering viral material in their system. Of course, as with any test, there is always the chance of there being something of a contamination issue if the samples are not stored correctly. But the risk of this happening is low, and in general, it’s not enough of an issue to affect the overall accuracy rates of the tests in a big way.

How Can I Get A Coronavirus Test?

Regardless of coronavirus test reliability rates, it is important that you get tested if you’re at all concerned. The issue for many people is that they don’t get tested because they don’t think the tests are accurate enough. While no test is perfectly accurate, people need to have tests done in order to rule out to the best of their ability whether or not they have the virus. This not only affects your health, but the health of those around you as the virus is incredibly contagious. Its symptoms can vary wildly. Some people are asymptomatic, while others have symptoms similar to the flu. But some can have symptoms so severe that they actually need to be put on a ventilator, experiencing a high fever and extreme fatigue. There is no cure for the coronavirus as of now, and when symptoms are severe it is often a matter of treating them and trying to keep patients alive. People with co-morbidities, like obesity, old age, or immune disorders like lupus, are more at risk of dying of the virus. Even if you do not have any of those co-morbidities, someone else may.

Now, as for making sure that you get the test done, it’s recently become more accessible to people. Depending on your health insurance issuer (like AETNA insurance, Cigna, and other insurers) and particular policy, you may be able to get the test for free, with quick results. Local health clinics have also offered the test for free, though when the test is done without insurance it can sometimes take more time for you to receive the results. If you’re worried about social distancing, there are also drive-through tests which make it possible for you to take the test without leaving your car or making any human contact.

There are so many factors that affect the rates of coronavirus test reliability, but in general, the tests have been refined to the point where they are much more reliable than they were a few months ago. For that matter, regardless of whether or not they’re perfectly accurate, these tests guide us towards what we need to do in order to stop the spread of the virus. If you’ve been diagnosed, even if you’re asymptomatic, you know to do a thorough house or apartment cleaning in order to sanitize your space, and to stay away from others for at least 14 days. You’ll also know that it’s important to stay on top of your health and to make sure that those who you were in contact with prior to your diagnosis to be careful about their symptoms. It’s a crucial part of being conscientious about the virus.

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