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Infectious diseases are a global threat, and when they spread in the general population, the consequences can be devastating. In order to stop widespread epidemics, health organizations need a way to quickly detect infectious organisms or pathogens. One such method is the rapid antigen test (RAT), which detects an antibody response against a specific pathogen in a person’s bloodstream without having to culture the organism first. With this novel diagnostic tool, doctors could more easily fight a current outbreak or prepare for future ones by testing populations beforehand.
The RAT also has another benefit: Some emerging infectious diseases do not trigger an antibody response until weeks after exposure so blood tests would often give false negatives. The RAT can look for viral antigens directly rather than relying on an antibody response, so it can detect certain diseases earlier than other testing methods. The early detection of pathogens may save lives because medical personnel would know to take precautions to avoid catching the virus/organism while waiting for confirmation through traditional diagnostic tests.
The RAT is also highly accurate compared to other testing methods. The test’s procedure only takes seven hours, but seven hour blood draws are not practical in large-scale screenings or emergencies where rapid results are needed. It is possible to use dried blood spots (DBS), which are samples of a person’s shed skin cells that have their blood removed. These DBS samples need time to be mailed and processed before the results come back, but they still produce more accurate results than traditional antibody tests.
The RAT is a valuable tool for both diagnosing and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. It is fast, accurate, and can detect certain pathogens earlier than traditional antibody tests. The RAT has already been used to help fight outbreaks of Ebola and Zika and will continue to be an important part of global disease prevention efforts.
How it is used in practices (hospitals, emergency preparedness, etc.)
What its benefits are over other methods of testing for infections
The RAT works by detecting viral antigens in a patient’s bloodstream. Antigens are molecules on the surface of one cell that act like identifying markers for cells of the same type or species. So when an antigen is found throughout the body, doctors can be alerted to an infection. Antibodies direct our immune system to attack pathogens by binding themselves to antigens on the pathogen’s surface and marking them for destruction. When doctors test for this type of marker in patients’ blood, they are looking for antibodies to aid in fighting off the disease through an immune response. The RAT works differently because it looks for viral proteins directly rather than scanning for antibodies, so it can detect certain diseases earlier than other testing methods.
The RAT can detect certain diseases earlier than other methods (including antibody-based tests) thanks to its ability to look directly for viral antigens. Antibody-based tests typically take longer because they require an immune response, whereas the RAT can be used before symptoms fully manifest and cost-effectively test large numbers of people at once. The RAT’s seven hour procedure is also shorter than the days or even weeks required by traditional antibody tests. It is possible to use dried blood spots which are samples of a person’s shed skin cells that have their blood removed, but these DBS samples need time to be mailed and processed before results come back. This results in more accurate testing, but it does not produce as quick of results as the RAT.
The RAT has already been used to help fight outbreaks of Ebola and Zika and will continue to be an important part of global disease prevention efforts.
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