Testing for Coronavirus Disease: Benefits and Dangers of Not Testing

 Testing for Coronavirus Disease: Benefits and Dangers of Not Testing

After about eight months of rage, COVID-19 has impacted human lives in ways unexpected. While many still see the disease as a scam, doubting the quoted figures of infection, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has, at every opportunity, emphasised the danger in such disposition.

 NCDC boss, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, at one occasion said that the figures are what they are, noting that people are not getting tested as they should.

Despite provisions made by the centre, the NCDC boss has also explained that the lack of trust on the part of the populace is posing a serious challenge to the federal government’s efforts to effectively tackle the virus in the country. He said “people are not coming out in sufficient numbers to get tested for all sorts of reasons.

Also during one of the Country’s Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 Press Briefing, its Chairman, who also doubles as the Secretary to the Government of the Federations, Mr Boss Mustapha, had warned Nigerians that the country was yet to win the war against COVID-19

Mr Mustapha insisted that Nigeria is yet to reach the peak of the pandemic, noting that: “Our testing infrastructure has been increased to undertake up to 15,000 tests per day but we are currently testing between 3,000 to 6,000 daily due mainly to people still not subjecting themselves for testing”.

Many people may wonder what actually is the problem with testing for infection from the virus. Is the low number of tests finance-related? No, Governments have often been promoting free testing. Is it fear of being positive? We’ve seen videos of people who tested positive and were isolated in different centers testify to how comfortable life is at the Centres. Then, could it be the process of getting tested? There are so many people that are sorely afraid of how the test is being done and for this reason, try as much as possible to escape from being tested. 

What are the types of tests for COVID-19?

Testing for COVID-19 involves inserting a 6-inch long swab (like a long Q-tip) into the cavity between the nose and mouth (nasopharyngeal swab) for 15 seconds and rotating it several times. The swabbing is repeated on the other side of the nose to make sure enough specimen is collected, then inserted into a container and sent to a laboratory for testing. All of this, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, starts with rapid and accurate testing of people who may be infected with novel coronavirus.

  • Nasal Swab Test: The diagnostic test that uses a nasal swab, known as a molecular PCR test, collects samples of cells and fluids from the patient’s respiratory system, enabling the identification of specific genes for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The specimen is collected using a long nasal swab that is inserted into the passageway between the nose and the back of the throat.

Photo: A nasal swab test being carried out.

  • Antibody Test: This is also known as a serology test and done with a blood sample that may identify past infection of the virus that causes COVID-19. It is a test that looks for evidence of the body’s immune response to the virus. Antibodies are detected in the blood after an infection. An antibody test may not be able to show if you have a current infection, because it can take 1-3 weeks after infection to make antibodies. Medical science has yet to determine what level of antibodies confirms immunity, if immunity is possible, or how long immunity might last. Until there is more definitive information, it is assumed that, even with positive antibodies, a person may still be susceptible to the COVID-19 infection. But to confirm and identify the level of these viruses in a person’s system, some more intensive but  complex and costly tests can be done, such as: Molecular (RT-qPCR) Test and Antigen Tests.

Photo: result of an antibody test being conducted.

As difficult or painful as either of these tests could be, its benefits outshine the instant difficulty at the testing time and the dangers of not testing. Even the World Health Organisation, WHO Director-General, Mr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had once said that testing is important for both the care of an individual. Knowing your status should simply inform everyone about the importance of the measures to prevent spread of the disease.

Let’s consider some of the benefits of testing for Coronavirus disease.

Personal Benefits of testing for COVID-19 

  1. It helps to know one’s COVID-19 status. It tells a person if he/ she has a current infection or had a past infection.
  2. It helps to know levels of precautions to be taken if one tests negative. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another, among many other ways. Some recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms, so, use nose masks and obey other precautions, such as social distancing.
  3. It helps to know levels of prevention to be taken if one tests positive: the need to stay home except when there is the need to get medical care; essentials of taking care of yourself, getting rest and staying hydrated; importance of staying in touch with your doctor and the need to avoid public transportation, ride-sharing of all types. Getting tested and testing positive helps you to separate yourself from other people as much as possible and if there is the need to be around other people in or outside of the home, the essence of wearing a mask. 
  4. It helps to get the right treatment, if one tests positive. It is crucial to get treated, isolated or hospitalised if infected.
  5. Through testing, a person’s anxieties are lessened, while more cases can be detected, treated, and recovered. Also, it slows the spread of the virus.
  6. Being tested asymptomatically helps to know the strength of a person’s immune system, through its response to the virus. Immune response is how the body fights the virus and protects itself, activating, producing, and mobilizing a variety of protective cells and molecules that attack the “foreign” virus. Confirming that someone has had the disease and is now immuned helps public health officials and others understand the level of immunity in a population. While the no-longer-infected person is out of danger, the information about past infection status is extremely valuable.

Societal Benefits of testing for COVID-19

  1. Testing is important to help investigators characterize the prevalence, spread, and contagiousness of the disease.
  2. Through testing, anxieties of the society are lessened, as more cases are detected, treated, and recovered.
  3. Society becomes a better and safer place for all. Once testing is increasing and everyone is getting to know his/ her status, the spread will be minimal, contained, or totally eradicated.

Benefits of COVID-19 testing to the Government

  1. It helps in case finding, assisting the Government to identify and understand where the most cases or most severe cases are. Confirming those infected is essential to manage and contain the virus successfully. Without reliable testing, it would be hard to determine the actual rates of cases.
  2. It helps to slow the spread, ascertaining the degree of public health intervention needed in such an environment or area to slow the spread of the virus. Countries like South Korea and Taiwan that have best dealt with controlling the spread of COVID-19 demonstrated that having readily available testing is a cornerstone of their program’s success.
  3. It helps to have an accurate contact tracing. When public health agencies confirm infections from COVID-19, the local health departments work with the patients to inform and monitor their close contacts who are at-risk of getting infected by the virus.
  4. Getting people tested helps inform the government’s decision about how to implement self-isolation guidance.
  5. It helps the Government in formulating National Health Policies. The more the cases, the more tests are needed to manage the outbreak. If properly targeted testing grows more rapidly than cases, it can be contained. WHO recommends increasing testing until fewer than 10% are positive in any given jurisdiction.
  6. Reduction in mortality. Testing for Coronavirus helps to quickly detect and treat a person who has been infected, thus providing opportunities to prevent such persons from untimely death. But if the test is ignored, an infected person can fall ill  suddenly and may not survive the virus.

Effects of not getting tested for COVID-19 on a Person, Society and Government.

  1. Carriers of this virus won’t be identified early if people are not testing because of its long incubation period, even though it seems that people are most infectious when they show symptoms. Both the carrier of the infection and the society he/she is mingling with, would not know the infection is spreading, thus spiking the number of infected persons.
  1. The mortality rate will keep increasing because infected people would only be identified when they have severe symptoms and go to the hospital. At this time, cases would have become emergencies with high risk of mortality. Mortality rate has been estimated to be more than 3 percent, but these numbers are probably skewed because there are no accurate records to confirm how many people are actually infected. Most likely, there are many more infected people who do not show symptoms; in that case, the mortality rate is probably much lower
  1. The disease seems to spread exponentially. In Italy, the first case was discovered on January 31, 2020, by March 8, there were a total of 7,350 confirmed cases and 360 deaths. This is now considered a worldwide pandemic. That is what worries health administrations worldwide and leads to the preventative measures that are being implemented in various places. So, reduction in testing will put the country at risk of uncontrollable upsurge.
  1. It will also pose Socio-Economic challenges for the country. This is because the Country, at the emergency stage or at the point of upsurge, won’t be able to minimise the spread in the face of limited facilities. Whereas, if the test is conducted early, it will allow those who might require hospital admissions to show up, while those who don’t will stop spreading the disease while they recover on their own.
  1. Also, not being tested will skyrocket the number of infected people in the Country again, which will demand Lockdowns. This, as before, will also lead to a spike in domestic violence and threatened livelihoods in a context where there have been few measures to cushion the economic effects. 
  1. On a final note, not testing and encountering upsurge in cases of infection will pose financial trauma and inability to access basic needs, especially food. The lockdown will lead to people facing hunger in many regions of the country. After President Buhari imposed the lockdown in Lagos, FCT, and Ogun States on April 1, 2020, the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs Disaster Management and Social Development announced that it would provide food rations to vulnerable households in these  states, but the government has not been able to provide food support to everyone who needs it, as the distribution system is reported to have been marred by corruption and opaque accountability.

In conclusion, if you test positive to COVID-19, know what protective steps to take if you are sick. Most people have mild COVID-19 illness and can recover at home without medical care. Contact your healthcare provider if your symptoms are getting worse or have questions about your health.

Testing negative to COVID-19 only means that you did not have COVID-19 at the time of testing or that your sample was collected too early in your infection. You could also be exposed to COVID-19 after the test and get infected, spreading the virus to others. Hence, whether you test positive or negative, take preventive measures to protect yourself and others. Note that there is currently no vaccine to prevent the virus; so, keep about 6-feet social distance from the person next to you; wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol; cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands and cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others.

The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State, to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in Journalism and enhance Media Literacy in the Country.

Atinúkẹ́ Ṣeun-Ìgè

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