Scientists are racing to develop COVID-19 rapid tests, which promise not only to be much cheaper, but also much faster, delivering results in a fraction of the time.
You may have seen some of them for sale too. Are any of these COVID-19 rapid tests the real deal? Let’s find out…
COVID-19 Laboratory Tests : How Do They Work?
Laboratory testing for COVID-19, as per WHO recommendations, are Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAAT) using real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR)
They basically use RNA primers to target and cut specific segments of COVID-19 genes, so they can be amplified and then identified by RNA / DNA probes.
Different countries may look for different gene targets :
|China||China CDC||ORF1ab and N|
|Germany||Charité||RdRP, E, N|
|Hong Kong SAR||HKU||ORF1b-nsp14, N|
|Japan||National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Department of Virology III||Pancorona and multiple targets, Spike protein|
|Thailand||National Institute of Health||N|
|US||US CDC||Three targets in N gene|
|France||Institut Pasteur, Paris||Two targets in RdRP|
Such laboratory tests usually take less than 24 hours to complete, although backlog of tests may result in longer wait times.
COVID-19 Rapid Tests : How Do They Work?
COVID-19 rapid tests cut down time and costs by avoiding the need for the cutting and amplification of nucleic acid samples.
Instead of looking for specific viral genes, these rapid tests look for IgM – the first antibodies our body makes to fight a new infection. Some rapid tests also look for IgG – the most abundant antibodies in the body.
That’s why they use blood samples, instead of nasopharyngeal swab (NP) or oropharyngeal swab (OP).
To “fish” for COVID-19 specific IgM and/or IgG antibodies, these rapid test kits use selected parts of the COVID-19 capsule proteins as antigens – bait – which are combined with colloidal gold as a marker.
When you drop a blood sample, COVID-19 antibodies (if present in the blood) will be “attracted” to the “bait” – the COVID-19 capsule proteins in the rapid test.
The antibodies will combine with the antigens, forming a visible, coloured compound which will appear as a red / burgundy line in the test strip.
COVID-19 Rapid Tests : What’s Available?
Now, there is no doubt that we will come up with COVID-19 rapid tests. It is what scientists are frantically working on. Look at how many have already been created :
Some are already available for sale online :
- Nantong Egens 2019-nCoV Rapid Test (Malaysia)
- MYEG COVID-19 Rapid Test (Malaysia)
- ATETION COVID-19 IgM Rapid Test (US)
They are certainly cheap – much cheaper than private COVID-19 testing available to those who are currently deemed not at risk.
COVID-19 Rapid Tests : Should You Use Them?
Now, these tests are no doubt convenient – allowing you to do it at home – and cheap. However, are they accurate and ready for use at home, by the public who are not trained in taking blood samples?
While health authorities are eager for such fast and cheap testing options, they are currently NOT advising people to use these COVID-19 rapid tests.
There will come a time when these COVID-19 rapid test kits are properly tested, and approved for use at home. Until then, it’s best to stay away…
It is also notable that, as of 9 March 2020, China denied that they approved any COVID-19 test kits for use by the public at home :
COVID-19 : How To Keep Safe!
Here are a few simple steps to stay safe from COVID-19 :
- Avoid suspected cases or disease hotpots, like hospitals, if possible!
- Avoid public events and crowds
- Keep our hands clean with soap or hand sanitiser
- Keep our home, office, vehicles, etc. clean
- If you need to wear a surgical mask, make sure you put it on and remove it properly!
- Thoroughly cook your food, and boil water before drinking
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