COVID-19 PCR Test FAQs
Author: Dr Mark Ali MBBS BSc FRCS CTh, Medical Director
I have a cough and flu like symptoms which seem to be resolving, will the test still be useful given that it may take a few days to get to me?
Firstly, please ensure that you and your household isolate according to government guidelines. The Covid-19 PCR test will detect viral RNA from your nose and throat. The chances of detecting virus are highest in the days surrounding the start of symptoms. Ideally the sample should be taken from symptomatic individuals between day 1-5 from symptom onset. However, there are many cases when virus can be detected later into the illness. A negative test result is also useful, to tell you that there is no presence of virus on that swab. But please bear in mind that this may be a false negative and isolation guidelines should still be followed. Many institutions use two swabs, 24 hrs apart to confirm a negative case alongside other clinical information.
Will the test show if I have recovered from Covid-19 infection?
It will show only if the viral RNA is present in your nose and throat. It does not test for antibodies and therefore, if you have recovered and cleared the virus, it cannot confirm that you had the virus in the past. An antibody test would look for this. If negative, the test can show that there is no virus detected. This could be because you have been infected and cleared the virus. However please bear in mind the possibility of a false negative and isolation guidelines should be followed.
Is there an official test report issued to signify if I have tested negative or positive?
Yes, it is an official document from the laboratory.
I’ve just ordered two of your tests but just wanted to find out if the test will show if I’ve previously had covid-19 eg antibodies?
This is not an antibody test, it is a viral RNA test, so it tells you whether the virus is currently detectable. It does not look for an immune response. You can read more about the different types of tests here.
I’m very very keen to get the test while I still have the symptoms (otherwise it won’t work)?
This is understandable. The test is most likely to catch the virus around the days of symptom onset. However we know that viral RNA can be detected for many days into the illness even when symptomatically recovered. A negative test may also be useful to demonstrate that virus has been cleared. Taking into account the risk of a false negative, we would recommend taking two tests 24hrs apart as used by UK hospitals and recommended by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
I am now symptom free.
Does this test show if I have HAD covid-19 and if I have any antibodies or will it be wasted on me if I no longer have it? Firstly, please follow government guidelines for isolation of you and your household. It’s entirely possible to still have the virus on board without showing symptoms at the start or the end of the illness (some people may never show symptoms!). The PCR test will not show you if you have had it in the past. An antibody test will show if you have been exposed and developed antibodies. This is best done at least 14 days from the onset of your symptoms. We discuss the best antibody tests here.
Can you book me in for a Coronavirus test?
A Covid-19 PCR swab in-clinic tests can be booked via the website.
If I am starting to feel better, should I still get the test?
It depends on the timing and your own immune system! Whilst the Covid-19 PCR test is most likely to detect virus earlier on in illness, there are many people who still carry virus well into the second or even third week.
Would the test show if I have had the virus already?
Because the test is only for viruses and not antibodies, the test will not reveal whether you have previously had the virus. You can read more about the two different types of test here.
I’ve heard there is a test that shows if you have immunity to it. Is that true?
No. This test does not test for antibodies. Also the antibodies may not be protective to provide immunity.
I want to buy these to keep in case we get the virus. What is the expiry date and what is the shelf life?
The test kits will last for 6 months There are a lot of people trying to sell tests online.
What is different with yours and why should I trust you?
We are an established clinic that is registered and recognised by the GMC. The medical director, Dr Mark Ali is a responsible officer for the GMC. The Covid-19 tests has undergone stringent testing and is the same offered by Public Health England. We will always have complete transparency about our test with our patients and are happy to discuss any clinical concerns on an individual level, which many clinics will not.
Do you inform my GP?
If you test positive for Covid-19, we are obliged to inform Public Health England. Your results including the test results for all the other viruses are emailed to you within three days. Our clinic will offer you guidance should you test positive for Covid-19. We also are happy to discuss negative results as these should be reviewed within the clinical context, particularly when there is a risk of false negatives.
Can I use the test on children under 2 or what are the age restrictions?
There are no age restrictions.
What is the time scale for a result? You will receive the results within 3 days of the lab receiving the sample.
How will my test kit arrive?
Securely, via Fedex, DPD and Hermes.
Can you describe the test?
It involves taking two swabs from the nose and the throat. Clear instructions are provided. It’s very straightforward.
Is my information secure?
Who does our Covid-19 Testing?
The laboratory that we currently use is located within the United Kingdom and is on the list of approved suppliers to the NHS and PHE. The testing method for 2019-nCoV Coronavirus Covid-19 is a molecular assay based on the detection of the nucleic material (RNA) within the virus. Whereas other testing methods are based on the detection of antibodies which are only produced as a response to the infection, detection of viral RNA allows for the identification of an infection at a much earlier stage after an initial exposure.
If you have any doubt As per the current Government and NHS advice, use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service if:
- You feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home
- Your condition gets worse
- Your symptoms do not get better after 7 days
You can use the online NHS Coronavirus service here.