Tags: Coronavirus | Health Topics | virus | test | swab

How a Coronavirus Test Works

a coronavirus testing kit in the netherlands
A coronavirus testing kit in the Netherlands. (ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 26 March 2020 11:54 AM

Experts say that testing is key to containing the spread of the coronavirus. According to NPR, there is a vital need to test aggressively wherever the disease is spreading, including testing close contacts of those who are already sick.

Here's how the test works, according to FiveThirtyEight.

A medical professional takes a swab up your nose that captures viral particles as well as mucous and random cells, explains Dr. Davey Smith, a research virologist at the University of California. Then, the RNA or genetic code of the virus is isolated for further testing. This is done with chemicals and a centrifuge to separate the layers of RNA, which resemble a half helix.

Once the RNA has been isolated, it is mixed with other agents that turn the RNA into DNA. After that, the sample is treated with special materials that bind only with the specific virus for which you are testing, so the DNA can be replicated. If the COVID-19 virus is not present in the test sample, it won't be replicated. This procedure is called the PCR system, which stands for polymerase chain reaction. Despite the many steps involved, the process takes only 30 minutes.

"We put in some special dyes so when it builds the right DNA we're looking for, we can see the color light up on special machines," says Smith.

Right now, we have a traffic jam on testing because supplies are low from basic items like cotton swabs to chemicals needed to perform the test, says Smith.

New tests are under development like the one produced by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche that is 10 times faster than the PCR test, according to FiveThirtyEight. Unfortunately, it requires the use of a special instrument that only Roche produces and there are only 110 of these in the whole country.

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Experts say that testing is key to containing the spread of the coronavirus. According to NPR, there is a vital need to test aggressively wherever the disease is spreading, including testing close contacts of those who are already sick.
virus, test, swab
305
2020-54-26
Thursday, 26 March 2020 11:54 AM
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