Testing for COVID-19 and differences between testing methods

With the Coronavirus being around for so long and constantly undergoing mutations into new, more contagious and intense variants, multiple testing methods have been developed to help identify an infection.

The most common and widely accepted as accurate test is the polymerase chain reaction also known as PCR. Generally, it is performed by a health care worker taking a sample from the back of your throat using a cotton swab. PCR tests work by detecting specific genetic material within the virus.

Antigen tests are also available at more affordable prices. Antigen testing is performed through a different mechanism than PCR. These tests are designed to detect the virus’ capsid protein. The test uses antibodies that specifically bind to the SARS-CoV-2 capsid protein that is contained within the test strip. When the mucus sample reacts with the testing strip, if the viral capsid is present, it will bind to the antibody and produce a signal indicating the result, similar to pregnancy tests.

You might ask, which one is better?

One isn’t necessarily better than the other, it depends on the purpose of the test. Due to restrictions travellers are advised to take the PCR test because it has a validity of 72 hours and exempts them from self-isolation.

Tested positive but no symptoms are present

In many cases an individual doesn’t even know they’ve been infected until they get tested. It is recommended to get tested regularly because asymptomatic individuals are at the highest risk of spreading the disease unconsciously. Every person has a different amplitude immune reaction when first getting infected, antibodies multiply proportionally to the disease. Having a strong immune system can suppress symptoms from showing.

Immune memory prevents future infections

After an infection your body produces pathogen-specific antibodies resulting in protection from repeated infection also known as “Immunological memory”. One of the most significant features of the immune response is its ability to retain a memory of previous infections, and this is also the principal behind the effectiveness of vaccinations. According to the National Health Institute, immune memory can be very long lasting; immunological memory for a specific pathogen decays so slowly it can take over 3000 years just to decrease by half.