How To Start COVID 19 Testing In Your Lab
The December of 2019 came bearing bad news as a novel Coronavirus started to spread in Wuhan, China, and soon developed into a pandemic as it spread to different parts of the world until it took over everything. The world came to its knees, the economy of almost every country started to suffer as the virus caused an outbreak in more and more countries owing to international travelers. So, what exactly is Coronavirus and how does it spread?
Coronavirus and its spread
There are many different classes of the virus such as adenovirus, parvovirus and coronavirus. Coronaviruses are one such class of viruses. Some viruses cause diseases while others will barely show any symptoms. However, a strain of Coronavirus has now caused a pandemic and is associated with grave symptoms and illness.
Coronavirus causes can cause a variety of symptoms that occur in the normal flu as well, such as:
- Fever – low grade
- Shortness of breath
- Lethargy and weakness
- Loss of taste and smell
- Sore throat
The virus spreads through droplet infection when an infected person sneezes or coughs. An interesting fact here is why the concept of social distancing is encouraged. The droplets released from an infected person are not able to travel very far, and either fall on the ground or nearby surfaces. Hence, it is advised to maintain a safe distance to avoid any droplets from getting in contact with an uninfected person.
No one is exactly sure how this virus originated. However, there have been a few theories and they all center around China. The most probable hypothesis is that the virus spread from seafood but even that is not definite and research is still going on regarding the origin of this virus.
Why is the world so scared?
Most people get mild symptoms of Corona and can produce antibodies and get better in a few days. However, Coronavirus can affect some people extremely badly by causing severe respiratory illness, and even kidney failure, resulting in death.
Although there are a few defined factors of who Corona will tend to affect more, there is no proof, and most of it is just based on theories. There is also no cure for this virus and treatment is symptomatic. So, if the severity of your symptoms increases, there is not much you can do about it.
A physical exam is not enough to diagnose a case of COVID 19, because as mentioned above, the symptoms are similar to those of mild flu. A lab test is best to confirm COVID.
With so many cases arising, the spread of Corona needs to be controlled, and for that purpose, it is important that more and more labs start COVID testing. So, how to start COVID 19 testing in your lab? What will you need and what are the dos and don’ts?
Laboratory tests for COVID 19
There are currently 2 types of lab test being used by labs to detect Coronavirus, a diagnostic test, which is basically a PCR test and detects whether you still have COVID, and an antibody test, which tells you about previous exposure with the virus and whether your immune system produced antibodies to combat the infection.
A PCR test basically detects the virus on the patient’s nose or throat sample. If you develop symptoms and feel like you have COVID, you visit a doctor. A doctor orders the COVID test. When you go to the lab, a person basically takes a swab that is specialized to collect a sample from your nose or throat. Mucus and other material on your membranes are then collected and sent for analysis.
Now, a lab attendant has to make sure that when the swab is delivered, it is being kept at the correct temperature, and the sample should not be older than 72 hours, or else the testing will not be as efficient.
Now, the lab technician mixes different fluids with the collected sample so that the viral genes can be collected and visualized. With the help of special probes and primers and a specialized machine, the virus’s RNA is converted into DNA and is then made into a million copies.
Now that the DNA is multiplied and can be more easily visible, a probe is applied and through a machine, the material is observed. The virus gene produces a different type of light and can now be detected by lab technicians. If the light cannot be seen, it means that the virus is not present and the person is COVID negative. However, the light indicates a COVID positive result. (Shmerling, 2020)
An antibody test is a serological test and is taken through a blood test. Then the antibodies are observed in the blood. Two antibodies are IgG or IgM. IgM antibody comes just after a person is affected and IgG antibodies develop later and help with long-term immunity.
Responsibilities as a lab technician
In these tough times, lab technicians must be careful and have the correct equipment. It is also important that you explain the procedure to patients coming for the test so that they do not feel any more upset than they already are. A lab technician should have the proper knowledge, proper gloves, an ample supply of swabs, tissues, probes, primers, and other reagents needed for proper COVID testing.
Dos and Don’ts of COVID testing
- All lab technicians need to wear proper masks, gloves, and even face screens if needed. If possible, COVID testing of patients should be from behind a screen and technicians should change gloves after every patient they test.
- Lab technicians should ensure that they keep a different area for COVID testing, separate from other lab tests.
- Labs should offer home testing.
- They should also ensure that proper social distancing is being followed and that patients are following SOPs.
- They should make sure that the sample received is at the correct temperature and is received timely for efficient and correct testing.
These are hard times and all of us need to work together if we want to make a difference and fight COVID. So, follow SOPs, ensure you get tested if you get COVID-like symptoms, and help others identify and know more about COVID as well!
Shmerling, R. (2020). Treatments for Covid-19. Harvard Health Publishing.