Testing Kids for COVID-19: Which Tests Work Best?

Do kids have to get those deep nasal swab COVID-19 tests?

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Most children who have COVID-19 are either asymptomatic, meaning they don’t display symptoms, or they have mild symptoms. That means they are often safe from dangerous complications. The problem is that they can still spread COVID-19 to others, including people who have a higher risk for severe disease. That’s why it’s important for kids to get COVID-19 tests if they’ve come in contact with others who have tested positive.

Which COVID-19 Tests Are Good for Kids?

Your child might need a COVID-19 test if:

  • They are having respiratory symptoms
  • They’ve had close contact with someone who tested positive
  • They need to take one to participate in a certain activity

You can technically use any of the COVID-19 tests when testing kids, but some appear to work better than others. Some tests may be less intrusive or scary for kids, and some may actually be more accurate.

Types of Tests

If you suspect your child currently has COVID-19 and is infectious, your child can take a PCR test. The PCR test looks for the genetic material of the virus and is the most accurate.

The other kind of test your child can take is called the antigen test. The antigen test looks for the proteins of the virus but has a higher rate of false negatives, especially in children.

Keep in mind that both of these are different from an antibody test, which checks if your child previously had COVID-19 in the past. It does not tell you if your kid currently has COVID-19.

How Tests Are Administered

By now, you probably know that COVID-19 tests involve a long nasal swab that goes far up to the back of the nose. However, there are other options, which may be more helpful for younger kids. These options include:

  • Nasal Swab: The technician will insert a long swab into the nose. Traditionally, the swab reaches all the back to the back of the nasal passage. Another option is to reach just halfway back to a place called the mid-turbinates. Finally, a technician can swab just the opening of the nostrils. These alternative options may be more appropriate for some kids.
  • Spit test: For this test, your child will only need to spit into a container or tube. Of course, this is significantly less invasive and more comfortable than the nasal swab test. Early studies indicate that spit tests have similar accuracy to swab tests, but more research needs to be done.

Talk to your doctor about which test is best for your child and ways your child can protect themselves against COVID-19. If your child tests positive, both of you can come up with a treatment plan that is right for them. Learn more here about what to do after a positive COVID-19 test.