Learn what type of COVID-19 testing is available, accuracy of tests as widespread testing comes to SC

Learn what type of COVID-19 testing is available, accuracy of tests as widespread testing comes to SC

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Efforts to increase widespread testing are seen by mobile testing centers that have popped up across the state.

Many of them are run in partnership between the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and private medical providers like Prisma Health, the Medical University of South Carolina, Kroger Health, and Harris Teeter pharmacies. However, the test kit used to test for the virus might be very different depending on which testing site or doctor’s office you visit.

MUSC and Prisma Health doctors said there are lots of different testing methods out there now, but which one you use and how it’s administered can impact how accurate your results are. For example, at some testing sites, a patient is tested by a medical professional, while at others, including the mobile testing centers run in partnership between DHEC and Kroger Health, the patient administers the test themselves. Kroger Health officials said when they first opened two weeks ago, this is because it’s a pharmacy-led testing center and that it was the first pharmacy-led testing site in South Carolina.

“So they administer it themselves with the guidance of the pharmacist,” Micke Roberts, the clinical leader for the Kroger Company South Carolina COVID-19 testing location, said.

The test kit used at the site is called a nasopharyngeal swab, which MUSC doctors said is the gold standard for COVID-19 testing because it goes deep into the nasal cavity.

“Because that’s where the COVID-19 virus tends to live and thrive so the collection method actually matters a lot,” MUSC Chief Quality Officer Dr. Danielle Scheurer said.

Dr. Scheurer said MUSC mobile testing centers also use the nasopharyngeal swab. However, the big difference is that at Kroger Health’s testing center, the patient administers it by putting the swab far up the nasal cavity and moving in circular motions for 15 seconds. Dr. Scheurer said it’s a difficult test to administer and, for the greatest accuracy, medical professionals administer it at MUSC’s testing centers.

“The collection technique that I described called the NP swab is actually very difficult to do that yourself because you are essentially taking a swab, putting it way back in the nasopharynx,” Dr. Scheurer explained, “then you are twisting it around and we actually count to 10 when we do it and it can be very uncomfortable for the patient. So, it’s actually very difficult to self administer or take that test.”

Dr. Scheurer said there are various other testing options, including a nasal swab that stays at the front of the nose, as well as a testing method in which saline solution goes up one side of the nose and goes out the other and is collected in a test cup.

“For lack of a better term, it’s a very messy collection procedure and it’s pretty uncomfortable for the patient and it’s actually kind of risky for the collector,” Dr. Scheurer said.

She said both of these methods work, but for the greatest accuracy, MUSC found the nasopharyngeal swab is best.

Dr. Helmut Albrecht, Prisma Health Midlands Chair of Internal Medicine, said Prisma Health is using various testing methods.

“We are using nasopharyngeal swabs, we are also doing saliva testing and only nasal swabbing. It depends on the situation and setting,” Dr. Albrecht said.

Dr. Albrecht said the saliva testing is less accurate than the nasopharyngeal swab, but he thinks it’s the way forward.

“In order to screen a large number of folks and get to where we need to which is population and home testing, saliva is obviously much easier,” Dr. Albrecht said.

However, one thing both MUSC and Prisma doctors stressed was that, regardless of the testing method, more widespread testing is the key to moving forward. Even though some are more accurate than others, they are all valuable to testing large populations in the community.

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