COVID-19 Q&A

Staff

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How do the new coronavirus tests work?

If you wake up one morning with a fever, shortness of breath and cough symptoms of the new coronavirus — you'll likely wonder how you can get tested for it. 

The COVID-19 tests are PCR tests & serological tests. The throat swab is well suited for polymerase chain reaction testing, also known as PCR, while the blood sample will be collected for antibodies specific to COVID-19.

PCR tests work by detecting specific genetic material within the virus. Depending on the type of PCR on hand, health care workers might swab the back of the throat, take a saliva sample, collect a liquid sample from the lower respiratory tract, or secure a stool sample.

Once a sample arrives at the lab, researchers extract its nucleic acid, which holds the virus genome. Then, researchers can amplify certain regions of the genome by using a technique known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. This gives researchers a large sample that they can then compare to SARS-CoV-2. SARS-CoV-2 has nearly 30,000 nucleotides, the building blocks that make up DNA and RNA. The PCR test targets just 100 nucleotides that are specific to SARS-CoV-2. These 100 nucleotides include two genes in the SARS-CoV-2 genome...Read more