An announcement by Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England (PHE), during the Science and Technology Committee held today outlined how home-testing kits for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies would soon be distributed to the UK population. In the conference, Peacock stated that 3.5 million kits had already been purchased, with millions more to be ordered, and that these would be available either for free or at a minimal cost.
There are two kinds of testing kits available for the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen. The first tests for antigens to inform us whether or not a patient has active disease. This is mostly being checked via nasal swabs of those suspected of having the COVID-19 disease. The second test looks for specific antibodies, signs of an immune response to the disease that reveals whether or not a person has previously been infected. You can’t check for the antibodies until symptoms have subsided for at least seven days.
The UK is currently aiming for a goal of 25,000 antigen tests per day by April 25, allowing for faster diagnosis of a wider range of patients as current stringent supplies mean tests have to be carefully allocated to those who most need them. These tests take almost a day for results to come back, depending on the time taken to transport the sample, but a new test being rolled out to the public is said to take just 15 minutes.
“We are developing a home test kit so that people who have been sick can be tested for the presence of antibodies,” said professor Peacock at the conference. “If that test is positive, they can then go out and go back to work. A small number of tests have arrived for evaluation and these are in Oxford at the moment. They will be evaluated rapidly…”
The home testing kit uses a prick of blood much like a blood sugar monitor to analyze a patient’s blood. To assist with the finger-pricking and interpreting the results, it’s likely that the tests will be available in pharmacies such as Boots, and Amazon is stepping forward to assist with the delivery of kits to the homes of people actively self-isolating due to symptoms.
Peacock told MPs that the tests still require final testing before they are cleared for distribution: “This testing of the test is a small matter and I anticipate that it will be done by the end of this week.” When pushed if the tests would be available next week, Peacock responded, “I think that I would be somewhat less categorical about the date,” but agreed that it would be a matter of days rather than a matter of months.
It is not known for certain whether an individual can get COVID-19 twice, with some anecdotal reports suggesting it is possible and other experiments in rhesus macaques suggesting it is unlikely.