Coronavirus has upended work and social life in the UK in a way that is unprecedented outside of wartime. With no vaccine at the ready, the UK government has had to enforce a nationwide lockdown, urging people to stay at home. The economic and social ramifications of this measure are gradually becoming apparent.
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Many people will feel the lockdown is disproportionate to the threat but with no way of knowing how many people have been infected and are subsequently immune, the government cannot take any chances.
It is now racing to roll out millions of testing kits that could drastically alter the direction of this disaster.
The test in question is called a serologic test – a blood test that looks for antibodies created by your immune system.
Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system that help defend the host against a foreign invader, such as COVID-19.
The serologic test for COVID-19 specifically looks for antibodies against the COVID-19 virus.
According to Harvard Health, your body takes at least five to 10 days after you have acquired the infection to develop antibodies to this virus.
“For this reason, serologic tests are not sensitive enough to accurately diagnose an active COVID-19 infection, even in people with symptoms,” explains the health site.
However, serologic tests can help identify anyone who has recovered from coronavirus.
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“This may include people who were not initially identified as having COVID-19 because they had no symptoms, had mild symptoms, chose not to get tested, had a false-negative test, or could not get tested for any reason,” notes Harvard Health.
The health body continues: “Serologic tests will provide a more accurate picture of how many people have been infected with, and recovered from, coronavirus, as well as the true fatality rate.”
As it points out, serologic tests may also provide information about whether people become immune to coronavirus once they’ve recovered and, if so, how long that immunity lasts.
This will be crucial to kickstarting the economy and public life as it may be used to determine who can safely go back out into the community.
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“Scientists can also study coronavirus antibodies to learn which parts of the coronavirus the immune system responds to, in turn giving them clues about which part of the virus to target in vaccines they are developing,” adds Harvard Health.
How close are we to rolling out these testing kits?
The Telegraph reported today that the Government had been hoping to roll out millions of antibody tests in the coming weeks, but supplies from China have so far failed to pass sensitivity and specificity tests.
It has also been revealed that ministers will attempt to recoup taxpayers’ money spent on the finger prick tests after an Oxford University trial found they returned inaccurate results.
Furthermore, Professor Karol Sikora, a private oncologist and Dean of Medicine at the University of Buckingham, validated a test kit using samples from staff at his clinics, which were then verified by a private lab.
Around six per cent of staff were found to have had the virus but, crucially, under-40s who had tested positive came back negative, suggesting the test may not be useful for the wider population.
COVID-19 – how do I know if I have it?
According to the NHS, the two main symptoms are:
- A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
If you are unsure whether you have symptoms, the 111 online coronavirus service will ask about your symptoms and tell you what to do.
“Only call 111 if you cannot get help online,” advises the NHS.
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