A new antibody testing kit could be out as soon as May. So how do you get tested?
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How do I get tested for coronavirus in the UK?
Since spending millions of pounds on testing, the Government is lagging behind its targets.
Antibody test kits were ordered in the millions in the hopes they could be released to the general public.
But none of the kits so far have been accurate enough to be relied upon to give information about immunity and the scale of the spread.
One test kit got the wrong answer in 75 per cent of swabs.
Another was right 95 per cent of the time – but still wasn't good enough for Government checks.
But we might now be "weeks away" from getting accurate tests after a few breakthroughs – including one from the UK's biggest biochemical firm, Roche.
Antibody tests can tell if you have had the virus in the past – but not if you have it when you take the test because it can take weeks for antibodies to develop.
At the moment only key workers, such as NHS staff, care staff, police and firefighters, with symptoms the virus are being tested.
Their household can also get tested if anyone is showing symptoms.
Otherwise only coronavirus patients who are hospitalised with symptoms are being tested.
I'm self-isolating at home, can I get tested?
At the moment there are no testing kits available for general home use.
Public Health England said a small number of tests will be trialled in a laboratory before being distributed by Boots and Amazon, but that will rely on having working tests.
It is not yet known when the tests will be available, however, if the Roche tests work, they could be available as soon as May.
The price of the kit is currently unknown, however, it would be wise for it to be affordable to ensure as many Brits as possible can purchase it.
Professor Sharon Peacock, from the National Infection Service, said they will be sold for a small fee or given away free of charge.
Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said that the Government was prioritising ensuring that tests are accurate over rolling them out quickly.
He said: “That is so important that if it means a delay to get there, that delay is worth having."
At the moment, to qualify for testing in hospital you will need to be showing at least two symptoms of coronavirus and be in a relatively severe stage before you will be admitted.
If you believe that you have symptoms, please check online first and call 111 to get advice before leaving your home.
Are NHS staff being tested for coronavirus?
NHS staff are not currently being tested for coronavirus unless they show key symptoms.
Many who have already been tested are now being re-tested due to the unreliable tests.
Things have been given a boost now though, with mobile testing units being deployed across the country to try and get 100,000 frontline workers tested.
These are antigen tests, also known as swab tests, that will show if you have it now, but not if you've had it before.
Ministers will now deploy 48 trucks to Covid-19 hotspots closer to homes in a bid to hit their target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.
If medics aren't tested, they could be unwittingly transferring the disease to their patients and other clinicians as well as their families.
As many as 85 per cent of NHS staff off sick may not even have the bug, experts say – and are being kept away from hospitals because of a failure to speed up testing rates.
Accurate antigen tests would allow quick testing to ensure that NHS staff are safe, and help differentiate a common symptom from Covid-19 allowing them to return to work instead of having to self-isolate for weeks.
What are antigen and antibody tests and who can have one?
Antigen kits test for the virus in your system and can only tell if you are sick with it at the point you take the test.
Antibody kits can test people to see if they have had the virus – because your body will develop antibodies from coronavirus that will stay in your system weeks and months after you have had the virus.
They cannot tell if you have the virus right now.
Scientists in Oxford got "mixed results" from the first week of testing the latest tests, but the new test from Roche looks promising.
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The NHS and other key workers will be prioritised as it is essential that they remain active if possible, but test kits will be made available to everyone else as soon as possible.
Knowing how many people had had the virus would help the Government to model its spread and to estimate the proportion of the population that is currently immune.
Government advisers have said that the antibody tests will be a key step in slowing the outbreak and getting the country back to normal.
How do the antibody tests work?
Dr Hilary Jones, a GP and resident doctor on Good Morning Britain, explained that it's "almost like a pregnancy test, except you need a drop of blood".
Antibody tests show who has already had coronavirus and is therefore immune.
Tests vary, but will principally be the same as any other blood test, from the fingerprick test you you get just before you give blood, to a vail taken by a GP.
The new Roche test, for example, would be taken using a blood sample, which would then be sent to a laboratory and could give the results in 18 minutes.
The company is working with governments across the world to deliver the kits, and is aiming to increase “monthly production to high double-digit million tests by June”.
Recent efforts to produce antibody tests have been plagued by inaccurate results.
What is the current coronavirus test?
Testing for coronavirus looks for signs of infection in blood, other bodily fluids or secretions.
There are a number of ways the virus can be tested.
- Blood – this involves the collection of a blood sample from a blood vessel in your arm.
- Nasal – this is when a saline is inserted into the nose and removed with gentle suction.
- Sputum – this involves the patient coughing up mucus from the lungs into a cup or a swab used to take mucus from the nose.
- Tracheal aspirate – this requires a thin lighted tube inserted into the mouth and down the lungs, where a sample will be collected.
Testing for the virus comes with some minor side effects, including tingling and slight discomfort. These however, are temporary.
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