New tests could detect if you were exposed to COVID-19 before symptoms appear

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Dr. Joseph Petrosino with the Baylor College of Medicine said since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been dozens of companies that have launched new COVID-19 testing kits through FDA's emergency use authorization.

"They've ranged everywhere from laboratory tests, where you are sampled by a health care clinician, to some that you sample yourself and send the test out for analysis," Dr. Petrosino said. "And now, we are seeing advancement in at-home testing."

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Petrosino said the PCR test, which is what you typically get at a testing site administered by Harris County or the Houston Health Department, is still the "gold standard" or more sensitive test to take.

"In terms of sensitivity, not only will you be able to tell for sure whether or not you have been exposed or if you are symptomatic. But these tests have an ability to detect if you are exposed or carrying the virus sometimes several days or days before you become symptomatic," Petrosino said.

If you need immediate results or are experiencing symptoms, there have also been advancements in rapid testing, also known as antigen tests. This includes Abbott Labs Binax, which was approved this week for at-home use. The exam, however, is not available for over-the-counter use yet.

"How can we make antigen tests faster, cheaper, and more sensitive so that we can get them in the hands of everybody and we have repeat testing?" Petrosino said. "Particularly in congregate settings, like nursing homes and schools and workplaces have a really good pillar of testing so we can add that to distancing and masking to ensure the best safety for those around us."

Houston's health department reported that its testing sites still have the capacity to issue tests. From Monday to Tuesday, more than 5,000 COVID-19 tests were administered each day, compared to 1,870 on Wednesday, Dec. 16.

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