26 March 2020 16:31
Testing for the coronavirus is the hot topic at the moment. What is an antigen test and what is an antibody test? Why can't I do one at home? And will one be available soon? Home testing would speed up diagnosis and would be vital for doctors and nurses to know whether they are infected and can or cannot return to work.
They would also help with the eventual roll out of a coronavirus vaccine. Over lunchtime on Thursday, Anne Gulland, the Telegraph's Deputy Global Health Editor, answered all of your questions on coronavirus testing. You can find a selection of the best questions below. How much will the tests cost? Prices haven't been discussed but I would presume that the government has discussed making them affordable.
A company called Mologic is developing an antibody test that they will sell at cost for about £1 – the company usually focuses on developing tests for low-income countries so affordability is key. Will key workers be given priority when the tests become available? The Government is prioritising them for NHS and social care workers at the moment but as has been shown over recent weeks supermarket workers are also critical for the nation's health and wellbeing. While it's great that these tests are being "democratised" – that is available to all – it is unclear how easy they will actually be to get hold of. Currently you have to go into a queue before you can actually get onto the Boots website! Maybe supermarkets should lobby the government to ensure their staff can get them. How will the tests work? For those of you curious as to how the tests will work, here's an illustrated guide. Healthcare professionals and infectious disease experts around the world agree that extensive testing is the best way to combat coronavirus. However, the extreme shortage of COVID-19 testing kits has made that impossible. The Public Health England (PHE) just announced it was planning to begin rolling out at-home COVID-19 testing kits in the coming days. These tests could tell people if they've been infected with COVID-19 in as little as 15 minutes. Current coronavirus testing is time-consuming and expensive because it requires healthcare practitioners to collect samples from the patient and have them processed in a laboratory. The test promised by the UK government would look like a pregnancy test and needs just a drop of blood to diagnose the individual. Several companies are working on at-home COVID-19 tests, but PHE didn't say which test it planned to deploy. According to PHE, the unnamed test takes 15 minutes to work, and it will be available at pharmacies and online via retailers like Amazon. The test will detect antibodies in the user's blood that indicate they have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It works with both Immunoglobulin M and Immunoglobulin G (IgM and IGG) type antibodies. IgM peaks early in an infection and IgG remains even after the infection has subsided. The new tests will provide a different type of result than current laboratory tests, but they could be just as vital. The tests being run in the UK and other countries now tell you if a person is actively fighting COVID-19 because these tests look for genetic material from the virus. The 15-minute test identifies antibodies, which can mean the user either has the virus or had it in the past. We know that some proportion of the population with COVID-19 show no symptoms, so a quick serological test like the one the UK wants to deploy is essential. This could make it feasible to test more people and identify people who have already had the virus and cleared it. Not only would they be resistant to re-infection, some research indicates their blood plasma could help those with more severe cases of COVID-19 fight it off. Public Health England still has some work to do before the tests are certified and ready for use, but other European nations have reportedly joined the effort to certify and distribute the tests. Now read: