Health Matters: Tests are a tool in fight and shouldn’t make us anxious
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There is some good news about Covid. The number of people who are seriously ill with Covid is relatively low, restrictions are gradually being eased and now more than 75 per cent of the eligible population of NHS Highland have received their first dose of vaccine.
Vaccinating three-quarters of the population is a fantastic achievement and reflects the hard work and dedication of vaccination staff and the enthusiasm of local people to be jagged or jabbed.
We should remember though that the virus is still around in the community and we are still getting cases and outbreaks of Covid.
Low levels of hospital admissions and deaths from the virus, thanks in large part to vaccination, are fantastic news, but the long-term effects of infections are still a concern. So, we still need to follow precautions, take up the offer of vaccination and also understand testing for Covid.
Few people like tests. When we think about a test, we may think about waiting for test results at a GP or a hospital clinic with the worry and stress of not knowing if we have a diagnosis. Perhaps the word test makes us think of difficult exams at school or about a driving test.
Covid tests should not make us anxious. They are widely available and are a vital part of the effort to tackle the pandemic.
There are two main types of test and they have different functions. PCR tests are used to make a diagnosis when people have symptoms and are also useful when there is a high risk of Covid such as when there is an outbreak or where people are vulnerable, for example in hospitals or care homes.
If you have symptoms that could be from Covid it is important to isolate and have a PCR test, even if you have been vaccinated. Tests can be arranged through NHS Inform.
Lateral flow device tests are used to identify people who may have Covid but have no symptoms and they help identify Covid in the wider population.
Like other NHS staff, I do a lateral flow test twice a week. Anyone can order these tests by post and they are also available at Covid testing sites and through the community testing programme.
Lateral flow devices are quick and easy to use and give a result in 30 minutes. It is worth considering taking a test before travelling for example, especially to areas with little or no Covid such as the islands, but it is important to remember that a negative lateral flow device test does not mean you are free from Covid. The tests are an extra way to help protect family and friends.
We have several tools which we can all use against Covid – including washing hands, wearing face coverings, getting the vaccine and isolating when sick. Testing is certainly another tool to remember.
Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health.