The Importance of PCR for Diagnosis of COVID-19

Over the past several months, the importance of quick, accessible testing for the presence of the COVID-19 virus has become increasingly apparent. Tests can be split into two categories, both of which are performed using different kinds of samples. Here, we examine the different tests that can confirm if a patient is infected with COVID-19.

COVID-19 is a deadly virus that has been spreading rapidly among the population over the past two years. Diagnosis of COVID-19 can be difficult because it shares many symptoms with other viruses, but one way to test for it is through PCR (polymerase chain reaction). In this post, we will explore how PCR works and why it’s important in diagnosis. 

PCR was invented by Kary Mullis in 1983, when he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on DNA sequencing. It allows scientists to copy specific sections of DNA over and over again so they have enough copies to identify what kind of virus or bacteria is present in a sample. This technique is done through two steps: an initial step where you heat up your sample which separates the components, and a secondary process in which you cool it down.

This technique starts with heating up your sample; this will separate out all of the components so that they can be identified by their molecular weights. After identifying these compounds, there are different types — some of them may need to be cooled after separation — before we start separating again!

  • What Are the Different Types of Tests for COVID-19?
  • PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Test: These are sent to the lab for diagnosis. The PCR test is the “gold standard” test for diagnosing COVID-19 because it’s the most accurate and reliable test.
  • LFT (Lateral Flow Test): These can diagnose COVID-19 on the spot, but are not as accurate as the PCR test.
  • Antibody Test: These don’t diagnose if you have an active infection, but tell you if you have had it in the past and/or if you have immunity to COVID-19.
  • What Makes a PCR Test So Important?

A PCR test is one of the most common methods to evaluate genetic material from an organism, and can be used in a wide variety of ways. The test is very effective because the DNA of a virus or bacteria will break down in high heat, and it can be identified by which enzyme does this breaking. When this test runs on liquid containing viruses or bacteria, it works by heating up small amounts until enzymes that break down DNA are activated. These then multiply exponentially through cycles of 30 seconds at 94 degrees Celsius, followed by another minute with 72 degree Celsius for elongation. This process continues as long as necessary. When done properly, it breaks down all molecules into their base components so they become visible under UV light. 

  • Reasons You Should Get Tested:
  • If you have had symptoms for COVID-19.
  • If you have been around someone for more than 15-20 minutes who has tested positive.
  • Results availability after PCR test: As early as 24 hours
  • Advantages of PCR testing: Most accurate & reliable detection of COVID-19
  • Why Are PCR Tests So Invaluable?

PCR tests are used to detect the presence of viral RNA, which indicates that a person has been infected with the virus. This is extremely valuable in catching the virus quickly before symptoms appear because it lets doctors know that a patient has the virus and can begin treating them immediately.

“PCR is a good tool,” says Dr. Edward Wright, a senior lecturer in microbiology at the University of Sussex. “By testing them for the virus, you can isolate the infected person and quarantine others to prevent further infection. Any time you can break the chain of transmission, that’s going to help stop the spread of disease.”

  • Why Are PCR Tests Considered the “Gold Standard”?

PCR testing is a powerful tool to detect viral pathogens. But the detection of specific viral targets may vary depending on the amount of viral DNA present in the sample. Researchers are constantly monitoring the emergence of new strains and will continue to develop new assays to keep pace with the virus.

  • What Are the Different Meanings of PCR Test Results?

Positive: Highly likely you have COVID-19. COVID-19 is a highly-contagious virus that can be spread from person to person through saliva, blood or other bodily fluids. Symptoms include fever and muscle aches but severe symptoms are rare. If you exhibit any of these signs please go see your doctor for treatment immediately!

Negative: For many people, it’s not a big deal if they don’t have COVID-19. The CDC estimates that around 2% of the population has been infected with this virus, and you might want to get tested just in case!

If you are exposed to someone who is sick or having symptoms, such as coughing, sore throat, congestion, then there may be a chance that your body will fight off these viruses while still carrying the COVID-19 virus. With early detection, you are able to seek medical attention right away, even if none of those symptoms occur.

When you think about it, sometimes the virus may not be detectable by your most common test.

At times when people are diagnosed with an infection or virus, their immune system is too weak to produce antibodies that can show up on a routine blood test. Sometimes they have been infected for months or even years before getting tested again, but because there’s no way of knowing if this has happened without undergoing other more advanced tests like an antibody screening (or other types), doctors will never know unless someone tells them — which isn’t always simple. Remember that a negative result doesn’t mean you can never get infected. 

If you test positive, consult your doctors, stay home and isolate yourself from others. If you test negative, continue to take precautions and stay safe!

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