At-Home Testing for COVID-19

2 min read

The currently available vaccines do not prevent a person from becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2. They give your immune system an introduction to the virus so that your immune system can respond using both parts: The innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. Without the vaccine and without previous exposure to the virus, your body can only use the innate part to fight the virus. Once you have been vaccinated, then your body has been trained to recognize the virus and the adaptive immune system helps fight the infection too. [Previous infection with SARS-CoV-2 can also train your immune system, but the response is more variable than the response to the vaccines. Some will have a robust reaction and some a small reaction that does not confer a good training experience for the immune system.] This means that for those with a healthy robust immune system and who have been vaccinated, serious illness and death are completely prevented. Your body can effectively fight the virus!

These vaccines do not completely prevent infection though. Even without vaccine hesitancy and 100% of eligible adults being vaccinated, the virus will still infect people unless we can break the infection chain.

One major way the virus continues to spread is through children. In most places, children are not eligible to receive the vaccines yet. So, children will continue to be infected. Most children will only have mild, if any, symptoms. So, there is little danger to most children from the virus. However, the virus will continue to circulate among the population.

The only way to prevent the virus from circulating is to know if you are infected and avoid giving it to someone else. In the U.S., this is not such an easy thing to know. You have to go to a testing site and often wait several days for results. Alternatively, your employer may require testing and provide tests.

Ideally, we need inexpensive, rapid tests that can be taken at home or upon arrival at a destination. At-home tests would be best; then someone who tests positive would know to wear a mask if leaving the house and stay away from others. Ideally, the person who is positive would stay home! Sometimes that is just not possible. Knowing if you are positive would make it so that you could avoid infecting others.

The Rockefeller Foundation is supporting student testing in Baltimore and Washington, DC using a fast test originally developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. But this test, called covidSHIELD, is based on PCR analysis and requires the samples to be evaluated in a lab.

Hopefully, soon simple 10-minute tests will be inexpensive and readily available. Multiple tests are being developed with some starting to be marketed commercially. These typically involve detecting a viral molecule that is recognized by an antibody, such a molecule is called an antigen.

Abbott Laboratories has the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Self Test

BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test from Abbott

Quidel has the QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 test

QuickVue rapid COVID-19 test from Quidel
QuickVue rapid COVID-19 test from Quidel

Many others that are also based on detecting viral antigens are still in development or actively being tested.

The University of Maryland is taking a different strategy. Researchers there are developing rapid tests based on nanoparticles and detecting the viral nucleic acid rather than viral proteins. One of these has been licensed to RNA Disease Diagnostics, Inc. (RNADD).

Also of interest

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Nancy Gough Nancy R. Gough is the owner of BioSerendipity ( A Ph.D. scientist with a passion for scientific communication and incredible scientific curiosity, her scientific expertise spans basic research in the life sciences to translational medicine. After 17 years with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Dr. Gough stepped down as the Editor of Science Signaling (a weekly multidisciplinary journal) and launched her company. Through BioSerendipity, she serves as a scientific consultant for researchers, a consultant to scholarly publishers and scientific organizations, and a freelance writer and editor. She has a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics from the University of Maryland Medical School. After graduating, she joined Johns Hopkins University, first as a postdoctoral fellow, then as a research associate, in the lab of Dr. Douglas Fambrough in the Biology Department. She performed research in cell biology, as well as taught undergraduate and graduate courses.

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