Despite the generally heralded success of the UK’s vaccination programme, vaccinating the population is still only one tool to help in the battle against Covid-19. Testing is another very important weapon the country has to keep numbers low and to help stop the spread of infection. But how accurate are Covid-19 tests? With companies like MedicSpot providing good-value testing capability, it is important to know how reliable those testing facilities are.
Here, we investigate Covid-19 tests and how they can be used to help you live a more normal existence once again, from travel testing packages for when you want to travel with confidence, to general testing to determine whether the country has reached its stated goal of herd immunity.
What type of Covid-19 tests are available?
There are widely available in the UK and it’s important to know which one is which. It is also beneficial to know how they work so you know which one to use, and when.
PCR stands for a polymerase chain reaction. A PCR test is a test that checks for the virus by looking for the genetic material of the Covid-19 particles.
The test is performed by taking a sample from a person’s tonsils, as well as from one of their nostrils. A long swab is used to take a sample from this area. It can be uncomfortable and cause a person to gag and wretch — but it should not be painful.
The sample is then sent to a laboratory which conducts the test necessary to look for the genetic material of the Covid-19 virus. As the sample gets sent to a lab, it can take over 24 hours for the results to be confirmed.
Lateral flow tests
Lateral flow tests check for the virus in a different way, even though the sample given is ascertained in the same way. A person swabs their tonsils (or where the tonsils would have been) and one of their nostrils. The sample from the swab is then tested to see if any proteins that the virus produces are found. These proteins are called antigens and can be a good way to detect the presence of a Covid-19 infection.
The big difference with a lateral flow test is that results are provided in 30 minutes. As a result, they can be a good way to test regularly for the presence of infection.
The accuracy of Covid-19 tests
For Covid-19 tests to be useful and helpful in the quest to keep numbers down, they must be as accurate as possible. While no test is ever 100% reliable, the PCR test is by far the more accurate, which is why you are required to have two during quarantine periods upon return from any international travel to the UK.
Lateral flow tests have been seen to be 78.3% accurate when a test is done within the first week of infection. If you unknowingly have Covid-19 but only test for it in the 2nd week of your infection, that accuracy rate falls to 51%.
How can Covid-19 tests help you to travel?
At present from the UK, citizens can only travel for holiday reasons to green list countries. However, it is possible to travel to amber countries as long as you have a good reason and you adhere to the testing rules. You need to have a test on day 2 of your return and day 8. You must stay in quarantine until day 10 of your return.
If you return from a red list country, you will need to test as above, but also quarantine in a dedicated quarantine hotel.
How accurate Covid-19 tests can help you
Covid-19 tests can help you if you have symptoms but are uncertain about whether you have the infection. By having a test, you can quickly find out whether or not you are infected. If you find out that you are not infected, you can return to your normal life quickly. If you have symptoms, it is better that you take a PCR test.
However, lateral flow tests can help in your day-to-day life too. As a result, they are a good addition to your normal weekly routine. If you take them regularly enough, you should be able to pick up any infection within the first week of catching Covid-19. In doing so, you can be far more confident that you are Covid free when going out and meeting friends, helping to keep you and your loved ones safe.
While the vaccination programme has allowed us to relax many restrictions, Covid-19 is still in our society and to stay safe, regular testing is the best way to help identify infection. By using PCR tests when returning from travel and when you display symptoms, alongside lateral flow tests, you are doing all you can in your fight against the spread of this deadly virus.