Regular testing to detect SARS-CoV-2 infections is considered one of the key factors in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Since the pandemic began, researchers have been working feverishly on rapid tests that provide reliable results within a short period of time without the need for elaborate laboratory equipment. Our online shop offers a range of high-quality test kits (made in Germany) ideal for use in doctors’ surgeries, hospitals, care homes, rehabilitation centres and similar facilities. There are three different types of SARS-CoV-2 tests available on the market:
PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction. PCR tests look for genetic viral material, which serves as direct evidence of infection by the coronavirus. This method is currently considered the gold standard in COVID-19 diagnostics because it is highly accurate. However, analysing test samples in the laboratory is a relatively time-consuming process. It takes at least 24 hours, often longer, to get a result. Rapid PCR tests are now available that do not require a laboratory and provide test results in about one to three hours.
Just like a conventional PCR test, rapid PCR tests also require a swab from the nose or throat area. A specific portion of the virus genome from the sample material is then amplified over several steps. With a rapid test, this is done inside a cartridge that comes supplied with the test. Special fluorescent substances that make the genetic material visible are usually used to detect the virus.
PCR laboratory tests are currently considered the medical standard for detecting a coronavirus infection. They also form the basis for reporting to public health authorities as required by the German Infection Protection Act. However, they carry the disadvantage that test results come with a time delay. In situations where a decision must be made quickly on how to proceed, rapid PCR tests may be a good option to supplement standard PCR testing. The biggest advantage of rapid tests is that the analysis is carried out directly at the point of care with no need for laboratory involvement. Possible applications include
A good and inexpensive alternative to PCR tests are rapid antigen test kits. They also provide direct proof of a coronavirus infection. However, they seek out specific viral surface proteins, called antigens, rather than genetic material. Antigen tests do not require special laboratory equipment. Depending on the manufacturer, results are available within 15 to 30 minutes.
The exact procedure for conducting COVID-19 antigen tests may vary depending on the manufacturer. As with a PCR test, rapid antigen tests usually require a sample from the nose and/or throat area. Alternatively, some tests may use saliva, throat swabs or even stool samples. These test systems are particularly well suited for children or people with disabilities.
The swab sample is then transferred to a tube containing a buffer solution. Sometimes the buffer comes ready in the sample tube, making testing a particularly easy process. Viruses are usually detected using a small mobile analyser with special fluorescent substances. Some antigen tests immediately display a visual test result, similar to a pregnancy test.
The major potential with SARS-CoV-19 antigen tests is that they quickly provide a result directly at the point of care without any complex infrastructure. This makes these tests ideal for facilities like
Antigen-based SARS-CoV-19 rapid tests may be useful, for example, in testing people who have come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19 but who have yet to show any symptoms themselves. They can also be used to test employees, patients or residents regularly as a preventive measure. This helps prevent people who are infected but asymptomatic from spreading the coronavirus unchecked. In sensitive settings like care homes, visitors often also undergo testing to ensure they do not introduce the coronavirus. It is important to note that these test results only provide a snapshot. Experts therefore recommend regular SARS-CoV-19 testing as part of a tailored testing strategy.
Antigen tests are primarily used to rule out a COVID-19 infection. If the result is positive, a PCR laboratory test should then be carried out for confirmation. The PCR test also forms the basis for reporting infections to public health authorities.
Antibody tests detect the immune system’s response to the virus rather than detecting the coronavirus itself. The immune response does not start until a few days after infection. The body forms specific antibodies to fight the coronavirus, which can then be detected in the patient’s blood. Unlike PCR or antigen tests, antibody tests are therefore not effective at an early stage of infection.
In addition to laboratory tests, rapid antibody tests are available that are relatively easy to perform and provide a result after only around ten minutes. These tests generally do not require any blood samples to be taken from the vein; a few drops of blood from the patient’s fingertip is sufficient. The result is indicated on the test strip by a change in colour.
Rapid antibody tests are not suitable for detecting an active COVID-19 infection! Antibody tests are used in research, for example, to clarify how many people have already been infected with the coronavirus. They may also be useful for checking the immune status of nursing staff and other healthcare professionals. However, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) points out that it is currently not possible to say with complete certainty that those who test positive are no longer infectious or can no longer become infected with the coronavirus.
While it is true that rapid tests do not offer the same level of certainty as PCR tests analysed in a laboratory, manufacturers are working flat out to develop increasingly powerful testing systems. The reliability of COVID-19 test results is indicated using the following criteria:
Sensitivity means the number of infected people who are actually identified as such. According to WHO recommendations, the sensitivity of rapid antigen tests should be at least 80 per cent. However, a sensitivity of more than 90 per cent is preferable. It is important to know that sensitivity also depends on the timing of the test: Rapid antigen tests are more likely to fail in the very early or very late stages of infection. Depending on the product, antibody tests have a sensitivity of only about 30 per cent in the first week after infection, only increasing to over 90 per cent in the third week.
Specificity means the number of healthy people who are actually identified as healthy. The WHO stipulates that only a specificity of at least 97 per cent is acceptable for antigen tests, with a specificity of more than 99 per cent preferred. A high specificity is especially important for preventive testing in asymptomatic patients since the test otherwise produces a relatively high number of false positive results.
Antibody tests in particular often also react to related pathogens against which the body produces similar antibodies. Consequently, a test may deliver a false positive if the person being tested has experienced infection by another (harmless) coronavirus.
If possible, opt for SARS-CoV-19 rapid tests from well-known manufacturers that were produced in Germany (made in Germany) and bear the CE label. These products have undergone a certification process and are therefore guaranteed to meet the required quality criteria. Among other things, the certification process requires the manufacturer to provide information on the rapid test’s performance parameters (sensitivity, specificity). When you shop online with us, you can rest assured that we only stock products that have been tested and comply with the legal standards, and most of our products are made in Germany.
SARS-CoV-19 rapid tests can only be billed to a patient’s health insurance if they meet certain minimum criteria. The German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) maintains a list of reimbursable COVID-19 rapid tests, which is updated regularly.
When buying tests, you should also note how practical rapid tests are in terms of handling and whether there are special requirements for storage. Storage at room temperature is generally sufficient. In some cases, the manufacturer recommends refrigerator storage.
Manufacturers are working feverishly to further improve existing COVID-19 tests and to bring new, even more accurate and even simpler test kits onto the market. We are happy to advise you on current developments and the innovative products available in our online shop. Simply register on our portal and subscribe to our newsletter.
In addition to COVID-19 rapid tests, our online shop also offers personal protective equipment (PPE) for your all your practical needs, including protective gowns, disposable gloves and face masks. When you buy through us, you’ll benefit from fair prices and the assurance that your personal protective equipment (PPE) meets all the required legal criteria.