COVID testing is becoming a common task of daily life in the UK as it is helping to open up society at a time when most restrictions are easing – along with the mass vaccination programme of course.
Secondary school children are being tested twice a week during term time, in a bid to keep COVID-19 out of the classroom.
Also, many people leaving the UK are required to take a pre-departure test, with arrivals in the UK being asked to present proof of a negative test on arrival and also undergo further testing in the UK as well (day 2 and day 8 testing).
Some sports fans also have to get tested before they are allowed to access certain events.
So, let’s take a look at the different types of COVID tests available
What types of COVID tests are available?
There are two main types of COVID tests available, with one type being aimed at finding out if a person currently has the virus and the other determining if they have had it in the past and built up antibodies
PCR tests and antigen tests are different methods of testing, but both can be used to determine whether a person has the COVID-19 virus at the time of testing.
What is a PCR COVID test?
A PCR Test, or Polymerase Chain Reaction test, is currently the most common form of COVID testing used within the UK as it is seen as the most reliable.
The gold standard PCR tests used by Fit2FlyTest were shown to identify all positive and negative samples without exception when analysed by Public Health England and the Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust. They also found that our PCR tests have 100% specificity towards the SARS-CoV-2 virus and so will only detect the presence of the COVID-19 Coronavirus.
PCR tests are the test that has been used by the NHS since the start of the pandemic and are the tests sent out by them to people who have registered as having symptoms.
In a PCR test, a swab is used to collect an RNA sample from the testers tonsils and inside their nose. RNA is the nucleic acid that converts DNA into proteins. RNA is collected as it carries the genetic information of the Coronavirus.
Once the sample has been collected, it is returned to our laboratory where it is heated and cooled in order to multiply it into larger quantities of DNA. Our bioscientists can then see whether the SARs-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19, is present.
What is a LAMP COVID test?
Lamp tests, or Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification tests, undergo a similar process to the PCR test but produce more viral RNA copies at a constant temperature, rather than having to undergo the heating and cooling process. This means the test results can be given much quicker,
Again, a swab is used to take samples from the throat and nose – although the swabbing process does not need to be as vigorous as it is for the PCR test.
The sample is then placed in vials of reagents that produce a chemical reaction to detect the RNA, and this is then heated in a special machine for 20 minutes.
The same machine then analyses the sample and confirms if there is any SARS-CoV-2 RNA present or not.
What is a no swab Saliva test?
A no swab saliva test is a test that can be completed at home through the collection of about 2mm of saliva in a sample pot, which is then sent off to a laboratory.
The sample is then tested, using LAMP technology, with the result being texted to the person within 48 hours.
More people are opting for this type of test as it means they do not have to stick a swab up their nose or down their throat.
What is antigen testing?
Antigen tests look for proteins on the surface of the virus aka antigens.
Antigens can easily be detected in saliva, and as laboratory testing is not necessary they can be done in places that don’t have access to a medical professional – such as care homes.
Results can also be provided more quickly than PCR test results.
However, the downside of the antigen tests is that research has shown that sensitivity does drop when these tests are completed by a member of the public rather than healthcare staff – meaning there is more chance of a false negative for most people.
What is a lateral flow test?
Lateral flow tests are designed to identify people who have the COVID virus but are not displaying any symptoms of it. They use similar technology to that used in a pregnancy test.
A swab is inserted into the nose or throat, and then the sample is inserted into a tube of liquid for a short period of time which then extracts the molecule that is used to determine if COVID-19 is present.
No laboratory equipment is needed for this test, as a few drops of liquid are then dropped onto a small strip. Within 15 minutes, the strip of paper will show one line on top if the test is negative, two lines if the test is positive, and one line on the bottom if the test is inconclusive.
While the benefit of this type of test is that the results are available quickly, the downside is that sensitivity is currently around the 76% mark. The government are therefore requesting that if you take a lateral flow test and your result is either positive or negative, you then take a PCR test to confirm the result.
What is antibody testing?
Antibody testing is testing that looks at whether your body has produced any antibodies to fight the coronavirus.
A blood test is taken from a person who has COVID-19 symptoms that disappeared at least three to four weeks earlier. This blood is then tested in a laboratory to see if any antibodies in the blood bind to a unique protein that the virus makes.
The UK government and the World Health Organisation agree there is currently no evidence that someone who tests positive for COVID antibodies will not catch it again in the future, unlike other diseases.