I've been completing the COVID-19 Symptom Study app for some weeks now. This app, developed by King’s College London and health science company ZOE, has been created to combine symptom reports with software algorithms to try to predict who has the virus. This information can then be used to track SARS-CoV-2 infections across the UK and further afield. The study also looks at how symptoms and risks vary between individuals.
I had reported headaches and chills over the weekend, which I think were the result of late nights doing coursework for my MA. The combination triggered an algorithm, inviting me to go for a PCR swab test to help the researchers to understand which symptoms are most related to Covid-19 infection.
"You’ve recently reported feeling unwell with a particular combination of symptoms. We would like to test you to understand if you have the virus right now. This does not necessarily mean you have COVID-19 as we are also inviting some people we believe do not have the virus."
I booked the test through the Department of Health website, which was a bit long-winded but pretty clear, and picked a site for a test, about a 40 minute drive away. I was a bit wary, as I know friends of mine have had bad experiences with the sites, and when I got close to Meadowhall I got a bit anxious, as there were no signs. I followed a stream of traffic, as I figured that SARS-CoV-2 testing was probably the only thing happening at the Meadowhall shopping centre that day, and from that point on it all went really smoothly and efficiently (until I left the site, took the wrong turning and ended up in an industrial estate, but that was my fault, not theirs).
The site was staffed with soldiers in army fatigues and PPE, and as I pulled in, I was shown a sign telling me to keep my window shut unless otherwise told, and to show the QR code I got at registration. I then drove to the next point, where a very pleasant soldier handed me the test using a long-armed grab tool explained the process to me – I was to drive to a parking bay, swab my throat and then my nose, put the swab in the tube, label the tube lengthways with the bar code, and put it in the bag but not seal it. If I needed help, I should put my hazard lights on.
I did the test as per the instructions, swabbing my tonsils (eww) and then pushing the swab up each nostril as far as I could and turning it (ouch). Not something I plan on doing again unless I must. I drove to the exit, where the soldier at the gate checked the bag contents and then told me to seal it, and then grabbed the bag with a long-armed grabber tool. I then drove to the gate, confidently turned right, turned round in the industrial estate and drove back past the testing site with my best 'I meant to do that' expression on my face.
There are a couple of videos on the Department of health website that I found really useful – visiting a regional test site and How to take a coronavirus self-test swab. The results came by text within 48 hours and were negative, thankfully. I have added the result to the app.
The app has led to some breakthroughs in information on Covid-19:
The researchers behind the app are also looking into the influence of hormones such as oestrogen in the responses to infection, and, as well as the effect of ACE inhibitors (angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors) or ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers) on the chance of infection.