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Why 'Swab' is Gold for COVID-19 Tests and Where You Can Get It

It hits the spot.
by Joel Guinto
Aug 13, 2020
Photo/s: Manish Swarup/Associated Press

Of the two main types of COVID-19 testing, the swab test is considered the "gold standard." The reason is fundamental: it detects the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that triggered the pandemic and changed life as we know it.

Technically called RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction), it is commonly known as a swab test because of the way the sample is taken. A long cotton swab is inserted deep into the nose or throat. Those who have had it described it as painful, or uncomfortable at least.

"This will really detect the presence of the virus, who has it at this time," Nina Gloriani, former dean of the UP College of Public Health told reportr. Dr. Gloriani is also leading the Philippines' search committee for a COVID-19 vaccine.

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The rapid test, on the other hand, uses blood samples to detect the presence of antibodies or the body's natural disease-fighting response. This type of test does not say whether or not a person has COVID-19, Gloriani said.

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At best, this test tells doctors that a patient could have been exposed to a COVID-19 patient, hence the antibodies, she said. Rapid tests are faster than swab tests as the name implies. They are also cheaper and are used by companies to screen their workers.

There have been reports that a reliance on rapid tests lulled some into a false sense of security. Metro Manila and its suburbs are under the second highest quarantine, MECQ, until Aug. 18 to halt fast-rising cases.

Gloriani said it shouldn't be a choice between RT-PCR and rapid. "There's a clinical correlation," she said. Those who have symptoms of the disease or tested positive in the rapid test could take the next step and take the RT-PCR.

Rapid tests also should not be discounted, she said. "It has a role in determining the level of immunity. It has to work together with RT-PCR." As a screening tool, it is essential  in keeping people in check, especially under looser quarantines where on-site work and commuting is allowed, she said.

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The Philippines has a locally-made RT-PCR test kit, Manila Health Tek's GenAmplify 2. It was recently certified by the Department of Health as ready for commercial use. However, you still need to go to a professional to avail of a swab test and to check if you qualify.

St. Lukes Medical Center offers swab testing for P6,500 for drive thru and P4,300 for outpatient with results in two to three days. The Medical City prices it as P6,000 for outpatients with results in two to three days. The Lung Center of the Philippines offers it for outpatients for P5,300 for results in three to five days and P8,500 for results in two days.

The Department of Health has a list of licensed COVID-19 testing laboratories and hospitals in the country where you can get the swab test, which is accessible on their website.

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