Rapid tests for COVID-19 – How the tests for the corona virus work


A smear from the nose and throat, then the sample comes to the laboratory – the current tests for the novel corona virus were quickly developed and can show in a good five hours whether someone is infected or not. Depending on the size of the laboratory equipment, you can also process many samples in parallel in a short time. However, for logistical reasons, it often takes longer to determine the result. “In the end, the bottleneck is not the equipment, but the people who feed it and who have to evaluate the results,” said science editor Volkart Wildermuth in the Dlf.

The current tests show the genetic makeup of the virus and are really sensitive, explains Wildermuth. In the laboratory, the sample is placed in a PCR machine, which specifically duplicates precisely defined sections of the virus genome several times. This creates an exponential course – as with virus spreading – until after a few hours a large amount arises that is easy to detect. The advantage of the PCR: “It catches even the smallest traces of the virus, so no infected person slips through. This can also be a disadvantage if you want to test when someone is healthy again. Then the PCR reacts, if not no longer there is enough virus to infect others. ”

Hands with protective gloves hold a corona test tube, symbolic photo, alienated. (imago images / Sven Simon)Corona virus test tubes (symbol photo) (imago images / Sven Simon)How dangerous is the new corona virus?
The number of people infected with the corona virus SARS-CoV-2 continues to rise despite countermeasures by many governments – also in Germany. The World Health Organization announced the “international health emergency” at the end of January.

Alternative tests

At the moment, tests are also being carried out that do not show the pathogen's genetic makeup, but its proteins, explains science editor Wildermuth. They would work similarly to a pregnancy test and deliver a result after just 20 minutes, directly in the doctor's office. “The problem: Developing these tests is time-consuming because you first have to produce the proteins of the new corona virus and then generate the appropriate antibodies in animals. This is an important field, but not yet close to the market launch.”

But there are also tests that test the response of the human …

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