Now You Can Test for Long COVID at Home
"Long COVID doesn't discriminate," says one infectious disease doctor—in fact, 20% of COVID-infected people experience long COVID. Now, long COVID tests have arrived. Here's what two MDs told us.
According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in June 2022 and analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “More than 40% of adults in the United States reported having COVID-19 in the past, and nearly one in five of those (19%) are currently still having symptoms of ‘long COVID.'”
Besides the major long COVID symptoms themselves, one of the pervasive problems with this ongoing type of COVID is that there hasn’t been a clinical means to determine for sure that the symptoms indicate long COVID. But, as of this week, consumers have access to lab tests for long COVID without a doctor’s prescription.
Here’s what the new long COVID tests are all about, along with the markers they test for, how you can get one…and some thoughts to consider when you receive your results.
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Why is long COVID testing important?
“Long COVID doesn’t discriminate,” says Nick Bellos, MD, National Medical Director Extended Care Services and Infectious Disease Specialist at Quest Diagnostics, the company that created these new long COVID tests.
There’s no question that people with long COVID are frustrated. Months after being infected with the virus, the National Institutes for Health reports that long COVID patients experience prolonged inflammation and symptoms ranging from brain fog to shortness of breath and several others. They also worry about what other long-term health issues may arise.
“Approximately 10 to 30% of people experience long COVID, despite having mild or no symptoms while actively infected with COVID-19,” Dr. Bellos says, pointing out that while the link remains unclear, the long-term effects of COVID-19 may increase the risk of diabetes, heart conditions, autoimmune disorders, and neurological conditions.
What are long COVID diagnostic tests?
If you’ve ever had bloodwork done, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Quest Diagnostics. Quest Diagnostics also has Quest, a consumer-initiated testing (CIT) platform where you can buy tests for conditions like STDs, cholesterol and allergies. This week, Quest added a long COVID test to their line. “While these panels don’t provide an individual diagnosis, they’re a first step in determining if something could be considered long COVID or if it’s a potentially treatable medical condition,” Dr. Bellos says.
These tests are accessible, which is excellent news—but Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, professor and infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, shares some cautions. Namely, Dr. Gandhi worries that while easy-access testing may help facilitate a process for long COVID patients to get some answers and subsequent relief, these clinical tests—which are also routine—may be confusing for patients.
Dr. Gandhi says, “I’m concerned that this will make people think they can get these easy tests and solve the problem, but it’s not that simple.” Dr. Gandhi points out that Quest’s post-COVID test panels test for markers like TSH, which is an indicator for the thyroid—which should be tested when someone complains of being tired, which most long COVID patients do—but this doesn’t necessarily point to long COVID and may indicate other medical conditions. She also notes that C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is a marker for inflammation, but that can be elevated if a person bumps their leg. So, in short, the long COVID test may not be entirely reliable.
Dr. Gandhi says vitamin-D deficiency should be discussed with a doctor: “In consultation, a doctor will ask, ‘What’s your vitamin-D intake? What’s your sunlight intake?'” She adds that long COVID is mysterious and we’re not sure of all the reasons people have lingering symptoms. Her take? “Every evaluation for long COVID should be done with a medical doctor.”
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What does the at-home long COVID test for?
Still, if getting into your doctor’s office could take time, Quest’s basic long COVID panel tests for inflammation, thyroid function, potential kidney injury, and vitamin-D and vitamin-B12 measurements. The expanded panel includes the above plus a few additional tests. Both panels were designed based on the fact that the most commonly reported long COVID symptoms are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Sleep problems
How can you get a long COVID test?
Getting a long COVID test is easy. Both the Post-COVID-19 Basic Panel and the Post-COVID-19 Expanded Test Panel can be bought online. Once your long COVID test is purchased, you can schedule a lab appointment at any Quest Diagnostic facility, and the company says results will be available 48 hours later.
Before and after your long COVID test results
Dr. Gandhi loves how the pandemic has empowered people to take control of their healthcare, but she worries about testing without context. “If you’re going to do these tests, make sure you have a follow-up appointment with a doctor to discuss the results,” she says.
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- Nick Bellos, MD, National Medical Director Extended Care Services, and Infectious Disease Specialist at Quest Diagnostics
- Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, professor and infectious disease expert at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)