Testing is one of the resources we have at our disposal to curb the spread of COVID-19. What types of tests are available? Who should get tested, and when? Let’s take a closer look.
Why is COVID-19 testing so important?
COVID-19 isn’t always easy to detect. It’s estimated that some 15 to 30 percent of people infected with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) have no symptoms. However, these individuals can still transmit the virus. Moreover, the most frequent symptoms (cough, fever, headache, muscle aches, chills) can resemble those of other common illnesses such as the flu or the common cold. It’s therefore possible to have COVID-19 without knowing it.
Since symptoms usually appear 5 to 7 days after infection (in some cases, 2 to 12 days), a person can be contagious and spread the virus even before the disease becomes apparent. Testing is the only way to confirm COVID-19 infection with certainty. A clear diagnosis makes it possible to identify appropriate treatment measures, protect those around you, and avoid transmitting the virus to anyone else.
Testing therefore helps to limit the spread of the virus and determine the number of cases in a given population or area. In addition, it contributes to a better understanding of the virus and the pandemic and provides guidance for improving public health measures.
Who should get tested, and when?
- Anyone exhibiting potential signs or symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested to confirm or rule out infection.
- If you’ve been in close contact with an infected person who has tested positive, you should also get tested, even if you have no symptoms. You may receive a call from a public health official suggesting that you get tested.
- Testing may also be necessary in other situations, such as upon returning from a trip abroad or before departure.
Anyone who tests positive must isolate at home (or in certain cases, at a hospital) and notify everyone with whom they’ve been in close contact. Close contacts must also get tested, isolate until they receive their results, and monitor for symptoms.
What are the different types of COVID-19 tests?
There are two main types of tests: PCR tests (molecular detection of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material) and antigen or “rapid” tests (detection of SARS-CoV-2 proteins).
PCR tests are highly sensitive. They can detect the presence of the virus, and therefore confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis, from the earliest stages of infection. Some can also reveal the presence of other respiratory microbes, such as influenza. At this time, PCR tests are considered the gold standard. They have to be analyzed in designated labs, as interpreting them requires sophisticated equipment and medical expertise.
Some PCR tests involve taking a sample from inside the nose or throat. Others, which are less reliable, use a saliva specimen (spit into a jar) or a gargle method. Results are usually obtained within 24 to 48 hours.
For a PCR screening test in pharmacy before travelling, make an appointment here.
Rapid (antigen) tests
Rapid tests have two main advantages: they’re easy to use and they provide a result in less than an hour. However, they’re less sensitive than PCR tests, which means they aren’t as effective at detecting small amounts of virus. For this reason, a positive result must be confirmed by a second laboratory test.
It’s therefore necessary to be more cautious when interpreting the results of rapid tests to avoid the false sense of security that comes with a false negative. That said, rapid testing is appealing in a number of contexts—for example, if you want to test a large number of people, do frequent tests, or get your results quickly (e.g., at an airport or factory).
For an antigen screening test in pharmacy, make an appointment here.
For an antigen screening test in pharmacy if you’re a CH Group employee, make an appointment here.
Over-the-counter rapid tests are also available for personal use. However, it’s important to be well informed before using them and to follow the instructions very carefully. It’s always preferable to get tested in a screening center if you have symptoms or if your rapid test gives a positive result. These COVID-19 rapid screening tests are provided free of charge by the Government and will be distributed in pharmacy. For more information about the service and to reserve your test box, please visit the brunet.ca/autotest description page.
- If you receive a positive PCR test result, a public health official will ask you certain questions about your symptoms, where you’ve been, and what you’ve been doing over the past few days. They will also ask whether you were in contact with anyone while you were contagious. This standard procedure is necessary to ensure that the right measures are taken.
- Even if you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you can still contract the disease (though you’re at much lower risk, especially for the most severe forms of the illness). If you have symptoms or have been in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19, you should still get tested if doing so is recommended.
- Health measures should never be relaxed, even if you are vaccinated, have no symptoms, or recently tested negative for COVID-19.
Getting tested means actively taking part in the fight against COVID-19. For more information, consult your pharmacist owner affiliated to Brunet.