COVID-19 Testing: US FDA approves new antigen test for the detection of coronavirus infection
On average, a single RT-PCR test can take up to 12-24 hours to give the results whereas this new antigen test can show results within a few minutes.
The COVID-19 pandemic that hit Wuhan, China in late December of 2019, has spread to almost all corners of the world by now. In the fight against this infectious disease, testing in large numbers has come to be one of the most important aspects. So far, health officials have been using two different types of tests: one to screen for the infection itself and the other to test for antibodies for the virus in the blood. (Antibodies are the fighter cells against the virus.) Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration issued the emergency use of a new type of test for COVID-19 infection - the antigen test.
Existing tests for COVID-19 detection
The two types of tests for the detection of COVID-19 infection are called real-time polymerase chain reaction test (RT-PCR) and an antibody test. RT-PCR test is a molecular diagnostic testing technique that helps in detecting the genetic material from the virus that is live and active in a COVID-19-infected person. In this test, a nasal or oral swab is taken for testing. In the antibody test, the doctors take blood samples of the patients and look for antibodies that might be present in the body of the person who may be (or have been in the recent past) infected with COVID-19 infection.
The new test for COVID-19
In their recent statement released on 9 May 2020, the Food and Drug Administration of the US stated that they have allowed the use of a new test that can quickly detect the fragments of proteins found on or within the virus. This test will be carried out by taking samples from the nasal cavity using swabs.
Antigen test vs RT-PCR test
The antigen test gives faster results than an RT-PCR test. On average, a single RT-PCR test can take up to 12-24 hours to give the results whereas this new antigen test can show results within a few minutes.
Also, the antigen test is estimated to be cheaper than the RT-PCR test.
However, scientists believe that though the antigen test is highly accurate, there are also higher chances of getting false-negative results. This would make it difficult to rule out the infection. The scientists believe that they will have to recheck these cases with the help of RT-PCR testing.
This antigen test has been used on an emergency basis and is expected to help millions of people who need to get tested. The FDA is also expecting to authorize more of these antigen tests to benefit people.
For more information, read our article on COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) test.
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