Unless you’ve been living off planet for the last couple of years, you’ve heard a lot about COVID-19, the need for vaccines, and the need to get tested. What may be less than crystal clear, though, is when you should consider getting tested for the virus that causes the disease.
Family practitioner Dr. Roman Nation of Nation’s Best Family Health Care, with two locations in Panama City, Florida, knows that a well-informed patient is a healthy patient. That’s why he wants you to understand the warning signs of COVID-19, so you’ll know when to come in to be tested.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus, a new type of virus in the family that typically causes upper respiratory illnesses like the common cold. This disease was first detected in China late in 2019, and it spread around the globe like wildfire, mutating as it went. It appears to be spread from one person to another through saliva or nasal discharge when you cough or sneeze (aerosolized droplets).
COVID-19 shares many of the symptoms of other respiratory illnesses, including:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Nasal congestion and/or a runny nose
- Sore throat
Unlike other respiratory illnesses, however, it often causes a loss of smell and taste, which often helps identify the infection.
Some people have such a mild case they barely even know they’re sick, while others go into respiratory distress and have to be placed on a ventilator. And some people recover quickly and completely, while others are known as “long haulers,” meaning they’re battered by symptoms months after the infection is over.
It’s even possible to have COVID-19 and not have any symptoms at all; however, you can still give the disease to other people, which is why states and communities have instituted social distancing protocols and mask mandates; both can prevent the virus’s spread. That’s also why you should get tested after coming into contact with an infected person, so you can take measures to prevent transmitting the virus to others.
Types of COVID-19 tests
There are a number of different types of COVID tests.
Diagnostic COVID tests seek out the presence of an active COVID infection, and they generally use a sample taken by a nasal swab. There are two types of diagnostic tests.
These tests look for genetic material from the SARS-CoV2 virus and are able to detect even very small amounts in the earliest stages of infection. However, results may remain positive even if you’ve recovered from the infection and aren’t contagious any longer. This is the type of test we use at Nation’s Best Family Health Care, and we usually have your results in 2-3 days.
These are generally rapid tests that look for the presence of the proteins found in the SARS-CoV2 spike protein, the protein that allows the virus to infect cells. They’re most effective when a person has a large viral load in their body and are most contagious, typically in the first week of infection. They may not be able to detect a very early infection or one that’s all but run its course. Results are generally available within 15-30 minutes. The in-home tests that are flooding pharmacies right now are antigen tests.
There are also antibody (serological) tests. These blood tests are often performed with a finger stick. They detect antibodies your immune system makes to fight COVID-19. Their main limitation is they can only determine if you’ve had a past infection, not if you have an active infection, and the results remain positive for months in most previously infected people.
When you should consider getting tested for COVID-19
It takes about five days after infection for symptoms to appear, so if you’re experiencing symptoms, you should get tested when you notice them.
Per the CDC, you should get tested for COVID-19:
- If you experience any COVID-19 symptoms
- At least five days after close contact with a person who’s tested positive for COVID-19
- For screening (e.g. schools, workplaces)
- Before and after travel
- When prompted by a health care professional or public health official
If you test positive, Dr. Nation will give you instructions on treatment and quarantining, and you can find current recommendations from the CDC on its site.
Even if you’re vaccinated, you may need to get tested for COVID-19. To learn more, or to set up an appointment for testing, call Nation’s Best Family Health Care at either of our locations, or book online.