Dr. Carl Nicoleau has decided to join the incredible effort of doctors nationwide trying to stem the spread of COVID-19. To that end, he has converted a portion of his Queens medical facility into an isolated testing area. He understands that testing can help alleviate the fear and worry that many patients might experience -- even if they're just displaying symptoms that could well just be sings of the common cold or, more likely, flu. Patient well-being is of utmost importance to Dr. Nicoleau, and with a career as a sleep medicine expert and internist physician, he is no stranger to the human body in total, and he understands exactly how our bodies react to various conditions.
Currently, there are two main reasons someone would be tested for the coronavirus: having symptoms, or exposure to an infected person.
The main symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. These look a lot like the flu and the common cold, so it takes a physician to determine if testing for the virus is necessary.
Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended testing only people with symptoms and who had potentially been exposed to the virus. But to the surprise of public health officials, several of the first people in the US who tested positive for the virus had no obvious exposure.
The actual test itself is simple and completely painless. The harder part is determining whether or not someone is infected with the coronavirus. The current method examines the virus's RNA, or genetic material, in the patient's cells.
The test performed by laboratories right now is called a reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction. This method first converts any viral RNA to DNA. Then the DNA is replicated millions of times until there are enough copies to detect using a specialized piece of equipment: a quantitative PCR instrument. Infection is confirmed if virus RNA is found.