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This test identifies people who are currently infected with the coronavirus. It may be used as a quick test to detect active infections. Initially it will not be used to diagnose disease, but it may be used to screen people to identify those who need a more definitive test.
Antigen tests can identify virus in nose and throat secretions. It does this by looking for proteins from the virus (as opposed to the diagnostic test, which looks for genetic material). This is the same technology used in your doctor's office for rapid strep testing.
The first of these tests gained FDA clearance on May 8. The company, Quidel Corp., says it will use the first 40,000 tests to get a better idea about the accuracy of its test. Researchers do not expect it to be as accurate as the PCR diagnostic test, but it is possible the antigen tests could be used to screen patients for infection. Dr. Jordan Laser, a lab director at Northwell Health, notes antigen testing is used for rapid strep tests, which are reliable, and rapid flu tests, which are not.
These tests should provide results in just a few minutes. As a result, they could be used to screen people in hospitals, certain workplaces, or in other instances where it's important to find out quickly whether someone is currently at risk of spreading the disease. But unless these tests are proven to be highly accurate, physicians would still need to follow up a positive result with a PCR test to make a medical diagnosis.
Antibody tests identify people who have previously been infected with the coronavirus. They do not show whether a person is currently infected. This is primarily a good way to track the spread of the coronavirus through a population.
This is a blood test. It looks for antibodies to the coronavirus. Your body produces antibodies in response to an infectious agent such as a virus. These antibodies generally arise after four days to more than a week after infection, so they are not used to diagnose current disease.
There are more than 120 antibody tests on the market. The Food and Drug Administration has allowed them to be marketed without FDA authorization, and quality is a great concern. A few tests have voluntarily submitted to extra FDA approval. Other tests are being validated by individual medical labs or university researchers.
These tests generally produce results in a few minutes, based on a drop of blood taken from the finger. Some research labs use a more sophisticated antibody test, called an Elisa (Enzyme-linked immunoassay) that are more accurate but are not as widely available.
Rt - PCR test
Doctors use this test to diagnose people who are currently sick with COVID-19. This is the one we've been hearing so much about.
This test uses a sample of mucus typically taken from a person's nose or throat. The test may also work on saliva — that's under investigation. It looks for the genetic material of the coronavirus. The test uses a technology called PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which greatly amplifies the viral genetic material if it is present. That material is detectable when a person is actively infected.
Generally speaking, these are the most reliable tests. However, a few days may pass before the virus starts replicating in the throat and nose, so the test won't identify someone who has recently been infected. And swabs can sometimes fail to pick up signs of active infection.
These samples are generally sent to centralized labs for analysis, so it can take several days to get results back. Wait times were longer earlier in the pandemic because of a testing backlog. There are also two rapid PCR tests, which can be run on specialized equipment already widely distributed throughout the U.S. The speediest one, by Abbott Laboratories, can provide a result in 13 minutes, but one study suggests this test can miss more than 10% of cases.