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Who is being tested?
As Australia makes progress in managing COVID-19, the criteria for who is being tested has been broadened. Up until the beginning of April, the large majority of people diagnosed with the infection had contracted it overseas, on a cruise ship, or else through direct contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
As these cases were traced, identified and treated, they declined in number. At the same time, community cases, although low, became more of a focus. Community transmission is when it is not known how a person has become infected – they have not travelled overseas and have had no contact with someone known to have the infection. It is assumed they have caught the infection from someone unknown in the local community.
The approach to testing has changed. Anyone is now able to be tested. The goal is to expand testing across the community and alert health departments to any potential COVID-19 break-outs. Surveillance and tracing are vital for managing and controlling infectious diseases.
What will happen if I am tested?
If you need to be tested some samples will be collected. This will usually take place in a special respiratory or fever clinic, a designated pathology collection centre, a hospital, or a special drive-through testing service.
The samples will be:
Nose (nasopharyngeal) swab
A swab is carefully inserted into your nose (both sides) to pick up samples of mucus.
Throat (oropharyngeal ) swab
This will take samples from around the tonsils and the back of your throat.
These swabs will be placed in a tube and sent to the lab for testing.
Depending on your situation, you may be asked to rinse out your mouth with clean water and then cough deeply into a sterile container. Sputum comes from the lungs and is not the same as the spit in your mouth.
If you are in hospital, your doctors may decide to take samples from your lower lungs. In some people, the virus cannot be detected from samples taken from the nose or throat, or through sputum. This type of collection is performed using a bronchoscope. This will be done using local anaesthetic.
A blood test may be taken so that a serology test for COVID-19 can be performed if one is being used in conjunction with your diagnostic test. A serology test
looks for the antibodies that your immune system produces in response to the infection.
What test is being used?
The test for SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – detects genetic material from the virus. It uses PCR
– a technology that amplifies the genes so that they can be detected. There are several different types of these tests being used.
The test looks for specific SARS-CoV-2 genetic material. An initial screening test may be positive because of the presence of other, non SARS CoV-2 coronaviruses. If your sample tests positive a further test for another target gene from the virus will be used to confirm it.
Your samples may also be tested for flu and other respiratory viruses so that your doctors can rule them out.
How long will it take to get the results?
The process for receiving COVID-19 test results differs between states and territories and between public and private laboratories. See section Accessing your COVID-19 Test Results
Will testing change?
A new form of testing is coming into use. This is rapid antibody testing, which looks for the antibodies your body makes to the virus. These tests are quick and easy to use and offer the opportunity to do widespread testing. They come in kit form and can be used with a finger prick blood sample.
However, they cannot accurately detect infection that has been recently acquired and should only be used in assessing whether someone has previously been infected and has developed an immune response. Many home test kits are being imported into Australia, mostly from China, and they do not give accurate results. They pose a serious risk to public health.
Given the limitations and risks associated with these tests, federal and state government health ministers have issued warnings and some have banned their use as a diagnostic test by everyone including health professionals and for the screening of staff for work purposes.
If I think I need to be tested, what should I do?
To seek medical help from a doctor or hospital, call ahead of time to book an appointment.
You will be asked to take precautions when you attend for treatment. Follow the instructions you are given.
Stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people. Cover your coughs or sneezes with your elbow.
Tell the doctor about:
- your symptoms
- any travel history
- any recent contact with someone who has COVID-19
How much will it cost?
There is a Medicare rebate to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing.
Last Review Date: May 29, 2020