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By Dr Amer Sheikh • May 13, 2020 • No Comments
Among the failures of the UK government in handling the COVID-19 pandemic is the lack of testing. Successful countries starting testing right at the beginning of the crisis in combination with contact tracing. We might have been able to lessen the mountain of deaths had we done the same.
Until now, there does not seem to be a sensible policy on COVID-19 testing. The government seems more concerned with showing they have tested a lot of people than actually saving lives. There does not seem to be a plan to use testing as a way of combating the virus.
There are 2 main types of coronavirus test. The first is the PCR test in which nose and throat swabs are taken. This test is used in people who have symptoms to find out if they currently have the infection. PCR tests are being done at NHS testing centres and community “Hot clinics”. Anyone who has symptoms suspicious of coronavirus should call 111 or their own GP, both of whom can refer to these testing centres.
The second type of test is the IgG antibody test. It tells you if you have had coronavirus infection sometime in the past. The IgG antibody test should be done a minimum of 3 weeks following the start of symptoms or after being in contact with someone suspected of being infected. Antibody levels have been found in one study to start decreasing after 2-3 months.
Most people will have had mild symptoms of coronavirus or no symptoms at all. Testing people with the IgG antibody test can tell people for sure if they have had the infection or not. This may be important for some as a form of reassurance. Past experience shows that having a virus infection does give that person some protection against future infection. However, we do not know for certain if having a coronavirus infection gives people any immunity. If it does provide immunity, then we do not know what level of antibodies is needed to provide protection or how long that will last.
A more important use of COVID-19 IgG antibody test may be to facilitate getting people back to work after self-isolation ends. Employers will therefore be particularly interested in getting their workforce checked.
Fortunately, reliable COVID-19 tests are now available to the public. The most reliable tests are processed in the laboratory after the samples are taken.
You can now order UK MRHA approved and CE marked home coronavirus (COVID-19) antibody test kits online that use a sample of your blood taken through pinprick. The sample is then posted back to the laboratory and results received by email.
Alternatively, you can get a blood sample taken at a private clinic. Two antibody tests are currently approved by the UK government. These are the Abbott and the Roche COVID-19 antibody tests. I am pleased to say that we now offer the Abbott test at Prime Health.
The accuracy of the a test is determined by its specificity and sensitivity. The specificity of the Abbott test is 100%. That means that if you get a positive test, there is little or no chance of it being incorrect. The sensitivity of the Abbott test is 97.5% which means that there is a false negative rate of 2.5%. That is very reasonable for such a test.
We also now have the Roche COVID-19 antibody test for the ‘s’ or spike antibody which can measure antibodies from people having vaccinations to see if they have been effective.
You can book a test by calling 01932 50499 for an appointment.
I personally had the antibody test a few weeks ago. I thought that I might possibly have been exposed to coronavirus because of the numerous patients I see with coughs and colds. Unfortunately, my test was negative. I guess I will have to wait for the vaccine to come out like everyone else. Preliminary indications are that it will give immunity for at least a few years and gives better protection than having had the infection. In this new and rapidly changing landscape, we shall have to wait and see.
I would also recommend that everyone should have the influenza vaccine this year. The reason for this is to protect people from influenza that has very similar symptoms to COVID-19 infection. New vaccines come out at the beginning of October. Most people with influenza usually manage it by themselves at home. However, any such symptoms may now trigger contact with with the healthcare system. The ideal scenario would be to get vaccinated for influenza and COVID-19 in the same appointment.
I hope that a new COVID-19 vaccination will be available by the Autumn when there is a risk of another wave of infection.
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