How Does The Coronavirus Test Work?

Have questions about the coronavirus test? Here's what to know about how it works and what it does based on what we know about it

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March 24, 2020
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The COVID-19 tests are based on PCR technology (polymerase chain reaction). They work by detecting specific genetic material within the virus. This technology has revolutionized molecular biology and it is the reason why it took only a few months to identify and create a test method for the coronavirus, instead of 6 for the SARS in 2002-2003. In countries where antibodies have already been developed, it is also possible to do a blood test.

The CPR test – Efficient and Fast

If you have a fever, are experiencing a shortness of breath and you are coughing, it is quite possible that you are one of the many people infected with the coronavirus. Thankfully, after months of scrambling to identify the virus and find a reliable diagnostic method, international researchers were able to do so, thanks in good part to CPR.

By using systems like Naica, created by Stilla Technologies, it is possible today to analyse samples by extracting its nucleic acid, which holds the virus’ genome. Then, researchers can amplify certain regions of the genome by using polymerase chain reaction. This provides a much larger sample that can then be compared to the new coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2.

The SARS-CoV-2 possesses nearly 30,000 nucleotides, which are the building blocks that make up the DNA and RNA. The PCR test targets only 100 nucleotides that are specific to SARS-CoV-2. Inside these 100 nucleotides can be found two genes in the SARS-CoV-2 genome. A sample tests positive if it uncovers both genes, inconclusive if there is just one, and negative if none of them are found. One of the greatest advantages of the PCR test is that it can be processed quite quickly. In less than three hours, the samples will be tested and analyzed, providing a result.

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Blood Test

Depending on your location, different testing method can be used. Currently, in the United States, the nurse will use a long Q-tip to swab the back of your throat for a PCR test. If you live in a country that has already developed an antibody test, like China, it will probably be done through a blood test, which will be mined for antibodies specific to the new disease.

The serological tests will look specifically for antibodies that the body has produced to fight the virus. One of the differences between the two methods of testing is that the blood test can still detect traces of the virus, even if the patient is no longer sick from it. The same cannot be said using CPR testing. It should also be said that both tests will not recognize the virus if it is made at a very early stage.

A New Test that Could Detect the Coronavirus in Patients at an Early Stage

The CPR testing helping, scientists continue to try to develop new methods to identify the virus faster and, if possible, at lower costs. The virus has spread to such a large percentage of the population at this point that any improvement in testing can help. Of course, the CPR and blood testing will keep getting more efficient but in the meantime scientists at the University of Oxford think they have developed a new coronavirus test that could produce results around three times faster. More importantly, it would require only a relatively simple instrumentation technique.

They believe that it could even help detect patients in the earlier stages of the coronavirus, which was one of the results that neither the PCR nor the blood tests could provide at this point. They also mention in their presentation that the results can actually be read by the naked eye, which makes it easier for doctors and other health professionals to make a diagnostic.

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A Great Success Rate on the First Results

In order to confirm that the tests were working, 16 samples of confirmed cases from China were used in a clinical trial. These samples were evenly split between positives for the virus and others that weren’t contaminated. The result was a 100% success rate, which is reassuring, but we still need to keep in mind that this is a very low quantity of sample tests, which will require continuing in order to make sure that it is fully functional.

If the scale testing proved to be effective, the biggest advantage this new test would provide is that many of the current necessary steps to provide a final results could be skipped, which would amount to a great gain of time. Since it requires a relatively simple equipment to conduct the test and interpret the results, it could be the perfect solution for areas that lack specialized equipment and personnel, as well as in key locations which could use such a process in order to expedite testing of a large number of individual such as airport, local clinics and hospitals.