COVID-19 Testing in Portugal
At the moment, I think everyone knows what COVID-19 Pandemic is about.
During the quarantine, we were all blasted with information via the internet and mass media. Although I have to say that the consumption and filtering employed to this information are essentially due to an instinct of survival because we wanted to understand what deprived us of our individual freedom and to safeguard our health and family. Self-didacticism was a natural act, and it only proves the sense of human evolution that is present in all of us.
Therefore, it makes no sense to explain here what COVID-19 is, which are the 2021 predictions, neither the current health measures. I think everyone is literary enough in this matter, and these questions are well-answered by reliable health sources: WHO (Internationally) and DGS (Portugal).
Almost every news headline has been "coronavirus testing" over the past few months, which has made us research in-depth about testing.
For COVID-19, there are two kinds of tests available: viral tests and antibody tests:
- a viral test tells you whether you have a current infection;
- an antibody test might say to you if you had a past infection.
As shown in the figure above, the PCR test should be made in the first fifteen days of infection, taking account of the incubation time, avoiding false negatives. This type of test detects genetic information of the virus, and it is collected by inserting a cotton swab in the throat or/and nostrils. It usually takes between 6-8 hours to perform and requires labour intensity and specialised equipment.
On the other hand, serology testing is looking for the presence of antibodies - Immunoglobulin M (IgM) and Immunoglobulin G (IgG). It is collected from blood samples and takes 5-15 minutes to perform using rigorous cross-reactivity testing to avoid false positives.
Interesting to notice that having antibodies doesn't mean that we are cured. For example, in the third week, we can have the two antibodies; however, the virus is still active in our system, possible for spreading. Immunoglobulin G is what we call the possible long-term immunity, which is currently being researched.
Hum, do I need to have symptoms to perform a PCR test? What are the testing policies?
Let's start at the beginning. Testing had been primarily used to diagnose people who may have COVID-19 and any of their close contacts who may also be infected.
Western governments were initially slow to scaling up testing capacity when compared to countries like South Korea, which recognised soon enough that widespread testing is the cornerstone of effective pandemic response.
Without taking any political side, we know the importance of testing - the number of confirmed cases depends on how much a country actually tests. Without testing, there is no information.
Testing is our window onto the pandemic and how it is spreading. Without data on who is infected by the virus we have no way of understanding the pandemic. Without this data we can not know which countries are doing well, and which are just underreporting cases and deaths.
Since last month, almost all EU countries have opened public testing, as illustrated below. Very uplifting news for everyone that needs to travel, being with their families with security and, for a change, taking control of the current pandemic.
Now we have to wait for the rapid, affordable, and portable testing for SARS-CoV-2. If the story of coronavirus testing has shown us anything, it's what the global science community — academia, industry, and public institutions alike — can accomplish when they come together and dedicate themselves to a common goal.
Finding where you can do a COVID-19 serology test can be a struggle these days. How is the Directorate-General of Health (DGS) tackling this information?
Well, it is quite hidden on their website. On this page, the Laboratories PDF is located in the form of a textual hyperlink. We can claim that this search is inaccessible and complex - all the information is only available in Portuguese, and the PDF is not only hard to find, but it is also a massive file of about twenty pages.
Aurora aims to help within that search by presenting a visual, simple and bilingual platform with all the private laboratories in Portugal where it is possible to do this testing, making it easy to find out which one is near me. All the data is updated daily from the Directorate-General of Health - DGS.