Testing has played one of the most crucial roles in managing this current global COVID-19 pandemic so far. From helping identify active cases, to tracking those who have been infected and, ultimately, mitigating the spread.
Throughout the history of modern medicine, testing has been one of the main tools public health officials have turned to in times of viral outbreaks. The effectiveness of testing has helped reel-in viruses like H1N1 and kept them from achieving their fullest potential. Testing has always provided a step forward to vaccine development, which in turn, has led to the prevention of countless deaths.
While COVID-19 testing has not been without its challenges, it is important to understand the role that testing has played in managing the current pandemic and controlling the spread of the virus to this point.
A Closer Look at COVID-19 Testing
Before diving into how the tests help manage the virus, here’s a breakdown of two common types of tests and how they each work.
Viral (RT-PCR) Testing
Viral testing, also referred to as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing, uses a long swab to collect DNA from an individual’s throat or nose for analysis of the presence of the virus. RT-PCR, or molecular testing, has made the process of detecting pathogens within a large amount of non-viral DNA a lot simpler over the years. Since the DNA collected from a nose and throat swab contains a great number of organisms outside of just the virus molecules, the development of RT-PCR technology has allowed for healthcare professionals to isolate and locate viral molecules, rapidly. The results are obtained within a few days and are fairly easy to interpret:
- If a viral test is positive, it indicates that a viral infection has been detected
- If it is negative it means that no indication of a viral infection has been detected
While viral tests play an important role in detecting the presence of the virus, diagnosing and monitoring the spread of the coronavirus, antibody tests can be just as helpful in a slightly different capacity.
Antibodies are naturally produced by the immune system to facilitate a response against invading pathogens that can cause disease. They protect the body from experiencing the same infection multiple times, helping further build immunity. With that in mind, an antibody test is used to indicate whether an individual has developed the antibodies necessary to combat the COVID-19 infection.
Similar to the RT-PCR test, an antibody test is also conducted by a healthcare professional. A single drop of blood is collected from an individual’s fingertip, the blood is mixed with a special reagent and the mixture is added to a test cartridge. Most test results are retrieved fairly quickly, only ranging between 10 to 15 minutes.
Antibody tests are different from viral tests in the sense that they don’t directly detect the presence of a COVID-19 virus. Instead, they look for the body’s immune reaction to the infecting virus. Predominantly two types of antibodies, IgG and IgM, will be produced by the body as a result of the COVID-19 infection. Depending on the presence or absence of one or both of these antibodies, the following can be determined:
- Whether you’ve recovered from a COVID-19 infection and have become convalescent
- Whether you’re still in the active stage of the viral infection and can potentially infect others
- Whether the infection has moved past the initial stage and into the second phase
- Whether you have antibodies present in your system at all
For a more in-depth look at both tests, please reference our blog post on how COVID-19 testing works.
RT-PCR and Antibody Testing’s Role in Managing the COVID-19 Pandemic
Each test has played a significant and unique role in the management of this virus. Both forms of testing have been able to assist in interrupting the spread of the virus, particularly in communities that consist of essential workers or those who are in vulnerable populations.
In the case of the RT-PCR test, individuals who have tested positive can immediately take the proper steps to facilitate treatment and take precautions to protect others around them. Health officials are also notified and can begin the contact tracing process to help monitor the spread on a more localized level.
The results of COVID-19 antibody testing can provide health officials with invaluable data about how common the virus is in a certain area and how fast it has spread. It can also give insights about how long an individual who has developed antibodies continues to maintain that immune response and therefore may maintain immunity to the virus if re-exposure occurs.
Evaluation of this type of data provides insight to scientists and researchers studying these types of pandemics into understanding how to prepare for subsequent waves of this pandemic as well as those in the future and safely allows restrictions to be lifted.
COVID-19 Testing and the Vaccine
With a COVID-19 vaccine closer to market than ever before, antibody testing can help prioritize who will have access to it first. Antibody tests will help identify which individuals possess the coronavirus antibodies, giving higher priority to the more at-risk population who has not yet encountered the virus. These tests will additionally aid in the development of convalescent plasma therapies against COVID-19. Many organizations, including ThermoGenesis, are currently studying how antibodies in plasma, donated by individuals who’ve recovered from COVID-19, might help those who are currently struggling with infection. Antibody testing allows for healthcare professionals to determine whether or not a potential plasma donor possesses the proper antibodies needed for the therapy. By making the process efficient and accurate, antibody tests could be the key to saving the lives of those who are already infected.
How ThermoGenesis Can Help in Managing the COVID-19 Pandemic
There’s no question that the various forms of COVID-19 testing are an important step forward in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. ThermoGenesis is working to make innovative healthcare solutions accessible to healthcare providers during the crisis through their Antibody Test Kit and COVID-19 Coronavirus Real Time PCR Kit. If you’re a healthcare professional, working in a CLIA-certified lab looking for more information or want to inquire about testing services, visit the website and request a quote today.
ThermoGenesis Holdings, Inc. (formerly Cesca Therapeutics Inc.), is a pioneer and market leader in the development and commercialization of automated cell processing technologies for the cell and gene therapy fields. They market a full suite of solutions for automated clinical biobanking, COVID-19 testing, point-of-care applications and large-scale cell processing and manufacturing with a special emphasis on the emerging CAR T immunotherapy market. The company is committed to making the world a healthier place by creating innovative health solutions for everyone.