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Understanding your coronavirus test results

A health official performing coronavirus tests

The COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus has long been rightfully termed a global pandemic. As a disease that has affected a large number of people, it has been recognised as an imminent threat, requiring urgent actions.

On 19 February 2021, the number of Coronavirus cases worldwide had reached 110,929,537 and caused 2,454,517 deaths according to Worldometer. These numbers could have been a whole lot worse if such regulations as the social distancing and stay at-home-measures had not been put in place.

Yet, several months after, the world is itching to get back into its rhythm. This means that people will be resuming travel among other activities that bring people together. Health authorities warn that traveling could put you at risk of infection and you should not travel unless you absolutely have to.

There are those who have to travel. However, such people will need to undergo COVID-19 testing. Here are a few things you need to know about COVID-19 tests.

What are COVID-19 tests?

COVID-19 tests are medical processes carried out to tell if you have been infected with the virus. There are two types of tests for coronavirus. The diagnostic tests check if you have a current infection while the antibodies test checks if you once had the infection and have recovered from it.

Tests for current COVID-19 infection

This is also called a viral test and it tells if you currently have an infection. Health care providers working in laboratories look for pieces of the virus in a sample of your saliva or mucus. A viral test can be completed within an hour to about 24 hours.

How to carry out a viral test

To perform a viral test, a clinic or a lab will have their health care provider collect a sample from inside the nose (at the start of the nostrils, the middle of the nose, or the very back of the nose), the throat, the inside of the cheeks, or along the gums or tongue. They generally use a long swap (like a Q-tip) of about 6 inches long to do this, see the image below:

Swab for collecting samples for Covid-19 tests

The swab is inserted into the cavity between the nose and mouth (nasopharyngeal swab) for 15 seconds and rotated several times. They may repeat the swabbing on the other side of the nose to make sure enough material is collected.

Not all test clinics require the swab method, some may just give you a container into which to spit or cough. Two tests that can be carried out with these samples are the PCR test and the Rapid Antigen Tests.

What is a PCR test?

A PCR test or polymerase chain reaction test can detect the presence of an antigen and determine if a person is infected. It is the most popular way of carrying out a viral test. PCR tests can detect viral RNA, which will first appear before your body develops antibodies or before symptoms of the disease appear. However, there is one catch. PCR testing is laborious and gives room for errors because of its several layers of sampling and analyzing. It reportedly can give as high as 30% false negative results. For this reason, they are more useful for confirming the presence of the coronavirus than the absence of it.

What are Rapid Antigen Tests?

Rapid Antigen tests are used to detect a protein that is part of the coronavirus. They are useful especially when testing a person at or near peak infection. These tests are also less expensive and even faster, hence the name ‘rapid’. However, unlike PCR tests, rapid antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests. Hence, if a person is not near peak infection, the tests could come back negative even though the person is positive and contagious. This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised people who return negative results with a rapid antigen test to get a PCR test to confirm the results.

However, unlike PCR tests, Rapid Antigen tests are less accurate and if a person is not near peak infection, the tests could come back negative. Yet, the person is still contagious. This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised people who return negative results with a rapid antigen test to get a PCR test to confirm the results.

Antibody test

An antibody test reveals if you once had the COVID-19 infection and have recovered from it. Healthcare providers simply look for antibodies, which the body produces in response to an infection. While an antibody test can tell if you had been infected in the past, it cannot tell if you currently have the infection.

Another way that the antibody test differs from the viral test is that it is a blood test and samples are collected from either your vein or your fingertip.

How long do viral COVID-19 tests result take?

Depending on the type of test and where it is done, the interval it takes for the result to come out varies. With TestXpress, you can expect a Premium PCR test result within 6 hours. Other options include a 12-hour wait for the Convenience PCR test and a 24-hour wait for the Basic PCR test. The results time for antibodies tests differ but are usually ready within a day to one week.

Depending on your preference, we can send your result to you via email or social media. Physical pick-up services are also available. We have a team of experts and specialists in the areas of research, diagnosis and planning, on standby to deliver high quality services. If you use a home test kit, the sample will first be sent to a lab for processing and this might take longer.

Understanding COVID-19 results

After a viral test, if your result says “positive”, it simply means that you are infected with the coronavirus. A “negative” viral result means you are not infected. It is worthy of note that COVID-19 tests are not always accurate.

Researchers and medical experts have agreed that PCR tests for example are more useful for confirming the presence of a coronavirus infection than for clearing a patient. This is because it is more likely to give an inaccurate positive viral result. On the other hand, Rapid Antigen may return a false negative result unless a person is at peak infection.

For this reason, it advisable to take the viral test at least twice to be sure. Meanwhile, it is less likely to say you are positive if you really are not. This should assure you that there is less likelihood of you being wrongly diagnosed with COVID-19.

A “positive” antibody test means that you may have had the infection within at least 2-3 weeks before the test. A “negative” one means that you never had the virus within that period. However, there is no clear fact of how long it takes the antibodies to disappear completely from the blood. This makes it difficult to tell if you might have contracted COVID-19 and recovered a long time before the antibody test.

Conclusion

After getting a COVID-19 test, you should talk to your doctor or contact our medical experts to discuss your results. If the result is positive, you should stay at home and avoid unnecessary physical contact with other people. If you start feeling that your symptoms are becoming worse, you may need to call the Ugandan local health authorities on +256417712260 for aid.