New Delhi: Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began making headlines across the world, there have been confusing and sometimes conflicting theories about various aspects of COVID-19. The misinformation around the novel coronavirus that keep cropping up is mostly because the virus is new, has been out there for almost nine months and the medical communities and scientists across the world are still learning about it. Are antigen tests accurate? Is testing negative via rapid tests enough? Is there still a need to get tested when a person is not severely ill? The list of doubts is endless. Dr Trupti Gilada, an Infectious Disease Specialist at Masina Hospital, Mumbai and Dr Ajay Phadke, Centre Head at Dr Avinash Phadke Pathology Labs, Mumbai bust some of the common myths regarding COVID-19 testing. As the country is opening gradually from the lockdown and is facing a spike in positive cases due to the increased movement of the people it is important to know all about the coronavirus tests.
Myth: Rapid antibody tests on blood are a good alternative to diagnose COVID-19
Fact: The rapid tests on blood that are widely available and often misused are antibody tests. These cannot be used for diagnosis of an active COVID-19 infection. These rapid blood tests look for antibodies the body may have developed while fighting COVID-19.
A positive test most likely means that the individual has already had the infection in past and has recovered from the virus. The test remains positive for a very long time even after full recovery. Similarly, if someone is sick and COVID-19 is suspected, the antibody test may still be negative.
The tests that may diagnose the infection more accurately are tests done on the throat swab.
Myth: If I test negative, I do not have the infection
Fact: Mostly, the COVID-19 tests do not provide results with 100 per cent accuracy. In fact, if 100 COVID-19 patients are tested using the ‘viral’ tests, about 30 of them may test falsely negative. So if you have been exposed to the virus or have symptoms and have still tested negative, you must still take all precautions so as to not spread the infection to the others.
Myth: Testing on the first day after a suspected exposure to COVID is important
Fact: After an exposure, it most commonly takes an average of 4-7 days for the test to become positive. Testing on the first day can often miss the infection and the test should be carried out around day 5 post-exposure.
Myth: If I test positive for IgG (Immunoglobulin G) antibodies, I am now immune to COVID-19
Fact: A positive Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody test only means you have already had COVID-19 infection and have recovered from it even if the infection was asymptomatic. There is not enough scientific research to know if these antibodies offer long term immunity to protect you from getting COVID again. In fact, there have already been a few cases of reinfection reported. So, even if you test positive for these antibodies, continue following all the precautions as if you could get the infection again.
Myth: Kids do not transmit the virus and therefore do not need to get tested.
Fact: While kids are less likely to show symptoms of COVID-19 even after getting the infection, a study has shown that they shed 10-1000 times more viral RNA (Ribonucleic acid) than adults. Also, it is very difficult to have kids follow masking, hand hygiene, cough etiquettes, and physical distancing. Therefore, kids may be more effective spreaders than adults. It is thus important to diagnose the infection in them so that all necessary precautions including isolation from other kids can be implemented.
Myth: COVID-19 antigen test is better than PCR (Polymerise Chain Reaction) testing.
Fact: Both of these are viral tests done on the throat swab. The COVID antigen test can be used in areas where resources for Polymerise Chain Reaction are unavailable or when it is very urgent. The pros of these tests are the rapidity, lower cost and its specificity. Therefore, if it tests somebody positive with COVID-19, no PCR confirmation IS needed. The cons are that it gives many false-negative results. So those who test negative should ideally be then tested with the RT-PCR (Real Time Polymerise Chain Reaction).
(Dr Trupti Gilada is an Infectious Disease Specialist at Masina Hospital, Mumbai and Dr Ajay Phadke is the Centre Head at Dr Avinash Phadke Pathology Labs, Mumbai)
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