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A page by the Federal Ministry of Health

Bundesministerium für Gesundheit

Information on testing

Find out when a test against the novel coronavirus makes sense, who can be tested and how long the evaluation takes.

Test procedure

An acute infection is diagnosed by direct detection of the virus. The most reliable method is detection of the virus’s genetic material by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Antigen tests may also become available in future. These detect virus fragments and a result is available in minutes. More information can be found in the article entitled “Die nationale Teststrategie” (“The national test strategy”).

By testing for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, it can be shown whether the person being tested has had the infection. A blood test is needed. Antibody tests are currently being developed and validated. It must be ensured that the test only detects SARS-COV-2 antibodies, not other corona viruses which can cause colds and flu-like infections in humans (cross-reactions). The antibody test is not intended for use in acute diagnosis of infected patients and does not replace the diagnostics for detecting the virus by taking nasal or throat swabs, as antibodies are only detectable approximately two weeks after the onset of symptoms and approximately four weeks after infection. Antibody tests can detect an infection retrospectively and provide indications that a person may be immune. The extent to which the detection of antibodies is associated with immunity needs to be investigated in studies. The use of what are referred to as antibody rapid tests in medical practices is currently not recommended.

When testing, it is important to use a targeted approach, since testing without good cause can lead to a false sense of security. Even a negative coronavirus test only represents a momentary snapshot. In Germany, the following groups of people are tested on the basis of a decision by their doctor or the public health service: -Symptomatic people: Individuals with symptoms – even if mild. -Contacts: Individuals who have been in contact with someone infected with the novel coronavirus. For instance, members of the same household or people who were identified as contacts via the Corona-Warn-App. -Community facilities: People in community facilities and communal accommodation (e.g. doctors’ practices, schools, day care facilities, etc.), if someone there was found to have been infected with the novel coronavirus. -Residents of care facilities and patients: For instance, before (re)admission to hospitals, residential long-term care facilities, facilities for the disabled and for other vulnerable groups, as well as those in outpatient care. -Hospital workers: Staff at hospitals and other facilities (residential and non-residential long-term care facilities) undergo random testing independent of cases. As contacts, members of staff who look after COVID-19 patients should in any case be tested on a regular basis. In case of an outbreak at a residential facility, the entire staff should also undergo testing. -Epidemic regions: In regions with many new infections (that exceed 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over seven days), the entire population or a part of it can be randomly tested. More information can be found in the article entitled "Die nationale Teststrategie” (The national testing strategy), on the website of the Robert Koch Institute or on the Instagram channel of the Federal Ministry of Health.

It is possible that a test is still negative, even though the person is already infected. If you suspect that you might have become infected, call your attending physician or dial the number 116 117. They will decide whether you need to be retested.

The testing process currently takes around four to five hours. This excludes the time taken for transport to the laboratory, preparation time in the laboratory and, where applicable, any waiting time on account of a high volume of samples. In the majority of cases, a result is available within 24 hours.

In most cases, disease progression after infection with the novel coronavirus is very mild and needs no treatment. Many infected persons do not even experience symptoms. The focus of treatment for a severe infection include: supportive measures, such as administering oxygen, circulatory support medication, if necessary antibiotics to combat bacterial alternative or co-infections, as well as the treatment of relevant underlying chronic illnesses. A specific treatment, in other words, one that is directed at the novel coronavirus itself, is currently not yet available.

The doctor’s assessment should be trusted. If your state of health deteriorates, please contact your doctor’s office again and have them tell you what to do next. Currently, hospitals and family physicians decide for themselves who will be tested. They base their decision on the recommendations of the Robert Koch Institute.

A doctor who suspects his/her patient may be infected with the novel coronavirus must notify the public health office, according to the Ordinance on the obligation to report cases of coronavirus. When a laboratory confirms that a person has the novel coronavirus, it is also obliged to report this to the public health office. The report must be submitted without delay; the public health office must receive the information within 24 hours. The information transmitted includes the name, address and contact details of the person concerned so that the public health office can contact the person and initiate any necessary measures if needed. The competent health offices electronically transmit their data concerning COVID-19 cases to the competent Laender authorities who then pass the information on to the RKI, albeit without the name, address or contact details of those concerned. Further information is available on the RKI website.

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