CORONAVIRUS

What is antigen testing? Daily coronavirus test is key to Big Ten football's return

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz puts on his face mask after speaking during a news conference at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa Ci
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz puts on his face mask after speaking during a news conference at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Thursday, July 16, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

In its plan to resume football games next month, the Big Ten Conference announced new protocols for those on the field during practices and games.

Among these measures are stringent testing for players, coaches and staff — including daily antigen testing that will begin by Sept. 30.

An antigen test is a diagnostic test that looks for the novel coronavirus in samples taken from a nasal or throat swab to determine if an individual has an active infection. If that person has a positive antigen test, that means they are currently infected with COVID-19.

A positive test result is considered very accurate. However, antigen tests are less sensitive than other diagnostic tests, which increases the chance of false negative results, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Results from an antigen can return within minutes. And because these tests are low cost, public health officials say antigen testing is practical to use for large groups or frequent use.

Antigen tests exist for influenza, strep throat and other infectious diseases.

So far, only one antigen test for COVID-19 has received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to Science Magazine, an academic journal by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Results are designed to be read directly from the testing card, similar to the way a pregnancy test works, according to the FDA.

If a student-athlete receives a positive antigen test result, the new Big Ten Conference rules state that individual requests a second test — a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test — to confirm the results.

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A PCR test is another kind of diagnostic test to determine whether an individual currently has an active infection of the novel coronavirus.

The PCR test also determines whether there is an infection by using a nose or throat swab taken by a health care provider. Results can take days if it’s sent to an outside lab for analysis.

Antigen and PCR tests are different from an antibody test, or serology test, which is used to determine whether an individual had been infected in the past.

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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