The below feature is a first hand experience of coronavirus testing. All details are correct at time of publication and this feature has been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Paul Ettlinger.
“Test, test, test” was the mantra of the World Health Organisation that has become one of the slogans of the coronavirus pandemic.
There are so many uncertainties around testing but the bottom line is that where possible, testing should be overseen by a reputable medical professional to ensure accuracy of testing and interpretation of results.
This virus affects different people in many different ways, some without any symptoms. We are all aware of the classic symptoms but my symptoms were not typical. I never had any cough. I had a total loss of smell (anosmia) for the first time in my life which was really worrying especially when I couldn’t even smell a durian fruit in front of my nose! Thankfully, my sense of smell has come back gradually with smell training and introducing natural supplements like omega 3 fish oil and alpha lipoic acid into my diet.
The UK is currently behind on testing so I looked at private options in order to protect myself and my family. I discovered The London General Practice and London Harley Street Practice on Harley Street who offer access to coronavirus testing as well as long term assessment of coronavirus related symptoms.
Below are three testing options I experienced. Make sure you speak to a medical professional before to discuss if you are suitable for a test and a post test call to discuss results.
This test is known by a few names including swab test, antigen test and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) swab test. This is the test to take if you are worried you may CURRENTLY have coronavirus.
When should you have the test? If you think you currently have coronavirus, you should take this test when you first have the symptoms of the virus. It is thought that it can be intermittent so a single negative swab result can be misleading and tests may need to be repeated.
How is the test carried out? The test is easy and done at home with a swab.
This test is the one to take if you think you have ALREADY HAD coronavirus in the past. Antibody tests are used to determine if you are producing antibodies against the virus. For antibody testing, there are two main options: A rapid finger prick test or a lab test where blood is taken from your arm and analysed.
When should you have the test? Ideally 3-4 weeks after infection to ensure that your body has created antibodies against the virus.
How is the test carried out? The test is done in a clinic to ensure accuracy of results. A few drops of blood are obtained by finger prick and the results are available just 10 minutes later for the rapid test and for the lab test, blood is taken from your arm with results the next day.
MY TESTING EXPERIENCE
Because I had that strange episode of anosmia a few weeks ago, it seemed like I already had coronavirus so I decided to take the antibody test.
BEFORE THE TEST – I had a call/ met with a doctor who talked me through the test and to check I was suitable for it as the body takes time to produce antibodies. Therefore some people may not be suitable for this test as it may be too soon post infection. The doctor also talked me through the test process and explained about the accuracy of the test.
The rapid test provided by The London General Practice used was the NADAL COVID-19 IgG/IgM rapid test. This is a CE marked test manufactured in Germany. A few drops of blood were taken from my finger. 10 minutes later, I had my positive result from the test, suggesting that I was producing antibodies against the virus.
The lab test was provided by London Harley Street Practice where I met with a Doctor who talked me through the Abbott and took blood from my arm. The Abbott test is reported as being 100% specific, which implies that false results should be very, very unlikely. This means that the test does not confuse the Covid-19 IgG antibody
for a different antibody already present in the blood. Furthermore, the Abbott test provides an index number indicating the levels of antibodies in your blood. The criteria is that above 1.4 is a positive result.
AFTER THE TEST – I had a follow call with a doctor who ran through what the test had reported. I was then able to ask any questions I had about immunity, reinfection or anything else. This provided a lot of comfort especially as the Abbott test showed that my index level was at 2.23 seven months post infection.
Currently, it isn’t clear how long immunity is valid for. Antibody tests on blood are used to confirm past infection and presumed immunity, although the duration and effectiveness of such protection is not yet known.
Martin Hibberd, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine feels that once people produce antibodies against a particular coronavirus, they probably have immunity for life. A laboratory in China has investigated how long immunity against the SARS virus lasts and 17 years later, a SARS survivor was still found to have neutralising antibodies. This is reassuring for governments that intend to deploy antibody tests to establish which healthcare workers are immune.
Overall, I am reassured and totally understand why testing should be performed by a medical professional with full pre and post discussion of the implications of the test and the understanding of results.