COVID-19: All about testing

During a routine well child check for your child, your CPCMG pediatrician might order lab work like a blood or urine test. These medical tests help your pediatrician learn how well your child’s body is working and help diagnose diseases or infections like diabetes or the flu. For COVID-19, there are two types of tests available.

The Diagnostic Test: Do you currently have COVID-19?
The tests used to look for the coronavirus actually tests for the genetic material of the virus. A swab collects viral particles from the back of the nose or mouth, which is where the virus replicates to cause an infection. If the genetic material of the virus is discovered from the test, it is presumed positive. The reliability of this test depends on the number of people with the disease in the population – this means there can be false negatives (the test results say you have the disease when you really don’t). Also, it is possible that someone who gets tested may be an asymptomatic person (meaning someone has the disease but doesn’t have any symptoms). They may not have enough of the virus in their system to get a positive test result.

Who should get a diagnostic test for COVID-19?
Certain groups of people have priority for the COVID-19 diagnostic test:
County of San Diego

The top three priority levels include people with a high risk of developing COVID-19. They may also show symptoms of the coronavirus. The message remains that for mildly symptomatic patients who do not need hospitalization, to stay at home and isolate with rest and fluids. If you have any questions about this, please call your CPCMG pediatrician.

The Antibody test: Have you been infected with COVID-19 in the past?
Antibody tests show if someone has been exposed to or infected with a bacteria or virus. Antibodies are proteins called immunoglobulins made by the immune system to attack “foreign invaders” (aka bacteria or viruses). Each antibody is a specific match to another protein called an antigen, which lives on the surface of bacteria and viruses.

It’s important to note that testing for antibodies does not always diagnose an active infection (when you have the virus but you’re not showing any symptoms). Some types of antibodies are elevated during an active infection but some don’t show up until after the active infection is over. If you test positive for the antibody after having an infection, scientists don’t know if that means you have lifelong immunity.

Who should get an antibody test for COVID-19?
Anyone who had symptoms of coronavirus beginning at least 14 days prior to testing would be eligible for an antibody test. The next steps would be different with each test result. Someone who had a positive antibody test could possibly donate plasma to sick patients – the idea is that these antibodies could help fight the infection. For people who work with high risk populations in a hospital or nursing home, a positive antibody test might guide decision making on when to return to work. For people in a high risk group, it’s unclear if having antibodies means you are no longer at risk. Anyone who receives an antibody test would need to review the results with their doctor. Only time will tell if a positive antibody test infers long lasting immunity.

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and may have had contact with a person with COVID-19, please call your CPCMG office. It’s important to call us before you come in. Calling ahead helps us direct you to the most appropriate care, and take precautions to protect other patients, their families, and employees.

Please visit the CDC website for the latest COVID-19 information.


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