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There are these corona tests - an overview

The corona virus still has a firm grip on Austria. There is a lot of debate about testing for the virus. What tests are there and how reliable are they? An overview.

You can find the latest information on the corona crisis here.

PCR tests

The PCR test - PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction - is still the "gold standard for detecting an acute infection with SARS-CoV-2", explains Christoph Baumgärtel, an expert at the Medicines Agency. Be for the test Swab samples taken from the throat and nose. In the laboratory, it is then examined whether the sample material contains the genetic material of the virus. If this is the case, there is an infection. The disadvantage of PCR tests is that they are very time-consuming. The costs associated with this test variant are correspondingly high. Suspected cases receive the test free of charge. If you have it carried out on your own, you have to reckon with 85 to 260 euros. Around 40 laboratories and medical facilities currently offer corona tests for private individuals. Some general practitioners also do it.

Since May there is also the so-called Gargle method. In order to obtain a sample, the person concerned has to gargle with a special solution for around a minute. The sample then tells you whether the virus is present or not. The advantage of the gargle test is that it is easy to use. It makes the smear, which is usually perceived as unpleasant, obsolete. With the distribution of the liquid in the entire throat area, a wider area is picked up than is the case with a swab.

The PCR test shows whether a person is acutely infected. However, there is always the possibility of a false negative or false positive result. False negative means that the test gives a negative result even though there is an infection. One possible reason for this could be at the time of testing. If only a few viruses have formed for this, it may be that the smear does not capture them. This risk should be lower with the gargle method. The PCR tests are a very reliable method. However, they only provide a selective result: Those who are virus-free today can be infected tomorrow.

Also interesting: Current tests are not perfect

According to AGES, the cost of a PCR test using a swab sample is around 70 euros. These costs are borne by the state in the event of a justified suspicion. If you want to be tested at your own expense, you have to reckon with around 120 euros. Various laboratories and doctors offer the implementation of PCR tests. If there is a justified suspicion, however, it is essential to select 1450.

Antigen tests

Like the PCR test, the antigen test only reveals a snapshot. Compared to the former, however, it has a significantly lower sensitivity. In other words: positive cases are not recognized as well as is the case with the PCR test. The antigen test is easy to use and delivers a result within a very short time. A throat swab is taken with a stick. The removed material is dissolved in a liquid contained in a small tube, a few drops of which are then dripped onto a test cassette. The result is available after around 15 minutes.

Also interesting: the flu or corona app should help

The antigen test works on the principle of a pregnancy test - just not with urine. While the PCR test searches for genetic information about the virus, the antigen test can detect the virus directly. It does this by identifying certain surface components of the virus. The use of the antigen test is very promising where there is already a justified suspicion of Covid and rapid clarification is required. Especially people with a high viral load - keyword super spreaders - can be reliably found by the test.

Antibody tests

The second large group of tests are the so-called serological tests. They can be used to prove whether the corresponding antibodies are present in the blood of the person being tested. The smear and blood collection usually take place in the laboratory or at the doctor's. The tests cost between 20 and 175 euros and work much faster than PCR tests. A result is possible within 20 minutes. However, since the body only produces antibodies after a few days, the tests are not suitable for detecting an acute infection. If you got infected today and test three days later, the test may still be negative, which leads you to wrongly assume that there is no infection. You are highly contagious, especially in the first few days after the infection - even if there are no symptoms (yet).

Some laboratories

There are two forms of antibody tests: The IGM antibody test measures the immunoglobulins of the G class and takes effect after three to four days. This is a rapid antibody test. The IGG antibody test in turn measures the immunoglobulins of class G - i.e. the long-term immunoglobulins. Since these antibodies take a relatively long time to form, the test can only show after about a week whether an infection was present.

In contrast to the PCR test, which always only represents a snapshot, antibody tests are suitable for extensive testing, not least to ascertain the number of unreported cases, i.e. to find out what percentage of the population has already been infected. However, the question of whether an infection leads to long-term immunity has still not been clarified. One hears again and again of previously infected people who after a while no longer have antibodies or have not formed any at all. In this respect, a positive antibody test result is no guarantee that you will no longer be infected in the future.

Interesting: rapid tests should clarify contamination

The problem with the antibody tests currently available is their limited specificity. "Cross-reactivity with antibodies against other coronaviruses" is possible, according to AGES. If the test result is positive, that does not mean that antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 have been formed. The test may also have only worked for antibodies that have been developed against other coronaviruses. It is difficult for the consumer to determine which test is how reliable. An independent review of all available tests would be an advantage here. Antibody tests are available from around 40 euros.

Can a test prove that you are no longer contagious?

There is no answer to this question. However, it is assumed that you are no longer contagious when the symptoms - if any - have subsided and the PCR test no longer detects a virus in the body. Because where there is no virus, there is no spread.

Can you also do tests yourself?

Various laboratories offer PCR tests for sale. However, the smear should be taken by a doctor or qualified medical personnel. The gargle method, on the other hand, can be performed without the presence of a doctor. The question of whether this counts as a self-test by definition has not yet been fully clarified, since a laboratory is required to evaluate the sample. Apart from that, Baumgärtel advises against any form of home tests that provide a result on site. Even if the test delivers a more or less reliable result, it still has to be interpreted. For example, a negative antibody test can mean that the person concerned has not yet come into contact with SARS-CoV-2 and that an infection is currently present, but no antibodies have yet been formed. A positive result, on the other hand, does not rule out the possibility that one is still infectious at the time of the test.

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