When And How Should I Use Them
Rapid at-home tests are a good option for people who have been exposed to the virus, who want to know whether a sore throat is Covid-19 or just a cold, or who want a little bit of extra assurance before visiting a vulnerable relative or after traveling to a virus hot spot, experts said.
People with symptoms can take a rapid antigen test immediately, experts said, but those who have had a known exposure to the virus should wait three to five days before doing so. Testing too soon, before the virus has had a chance to replicate, increases the odds of a false negative.
âAnd that is a critical, critical piece,â Ms. Aspinall said. âThere are a lot of people taking a plane, getting off the plane and saying, âIâm negative â I can go visit Grandma.ââ
Some businesses, travel authorities and other organizations may not accept the results of at-home tests when proof of a negative test result is required, however.
How Accurate Are Rapid Antigen Tests
Polymerase chain reaction tests, which have typically been considered the gold standard for detecting the virus, are typically performed in a laboratory and involve making many copies of the viruss genetic material. That process helps P.C.R. tests to detect even minute traces of the virus.
Rapid antigen tests, which do not amplify the virus, are less sensitive than P.C.R. tests. If you take one during the earliest phase of an infection, before the virus has replicated widely, the test could return a false negative.
Some of the at-home antigen testshave an overall sensitivity of roughly 85 percent, which means that they are catching roughly 85 percent of people who are infected with the virus and missing 15 percent. In some studies, their real-world performance has been even lower.
But the tests are more sensitive in people with symptoms than without and are most sensitive during the first week of symptoms, studies have found.
And antigen tests are excellent at flagging people who have high viral loads and who are thus most likely to be actively transmitting the virus to others, experts said.
If Your Test Is Negative
A negative test result means that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was not found in your specimen. If you took the test while you had symptoms and followed all instructions carefully, a negative result means your current illness is probably not COVID-19.
However, it is possible for a test to give a negative result in some people who have COVID-19. This is called a false negative. You could also test negative if the specimen was collected too early in your infection. In this case, you could test positive later during your illness.
Some self-tests are designed to be used in a series. Serial testing is when a person tests themselves multiple times for COVID-19 on a routine basis, such as every few days. By testing more frequently, you might detect COVID-19 more quickly and could reduce the spread of infection. Some self-administered tests come with more than one test and instructions for performing serial testing.
Don’t Miss: How Long Cvs Covid Test Results
Who Are These At
Rapid at-home tests can remove barriers to testing and can help people isolate quickly when they need to. These can also be useful, says Ko, in a situation where a person without symptoms has to enter a high-risk setting that dayevents with large groups, weddings, sporting events, transfer of inmates from one facility to anotherwhere they want to avoid transmitting it to others. Although the test has low sensitivity, it may detect those who are shedding high levels of virus and are most likely to transmit to others.
Keep in mind, however, that testing at a facility is free, while these kits can get expensive if you test repeatedly, and if you need to test your whole family again and again. While kits generally run under $25 each, and the IRS now says that the cost of home testing for Covid can be paid or reimbursed under health FSAs, HSAs, HRAs, or Archer MSAs, at-home tests can add up.
Pixel By Labcorp Self
The Pixel by Labcorp kit is available for free to anyone who meets the companys clinical guidelines: you have mild symptoms of COVID-19, have been exposed to someone with the virus, live or work in a group setting, or were asked to be tested by a health professional. Otherwise, the kit costs $119. Youll receive a nasal swab and instructions for collecting your sample. Once the lab receives the specimen, you can access the results online in about one to days.
Don’t Miss: Did Hank Aaron Get Covid Vaccine
Abbott’s Binaxnow Rapid Test
How to use: The BinaxNOW antigen test is pretty easy to take only a shallow nostril swab is necessary. There’s a card you place your swab into. Like a pregnancy test, a single line means the test is negative. Two lines indicate a positive result.
Accuracy: The BinaxNOW test correctly gave a positive result 84.6% of the time compared to PCR. In the same study, the test correctly gave a negative result 98.5% of the time.
Availability: The BinaxNOW test costs $24 for two tests, which are meant to be used on the same person within three days . The BinaxNOW test does not meet travel requirements for testing.
How Do Rapid Antigen Tests Work
Rapid tests scan for antigens . PCR diagnostic tests look for the viruss genetic material, or RNA.
The main difference between rapid tests and PCR tests is how sensitive they are. PCR tests are incredibly sensitive and can detect very tiny traces of virus. Rapid tests, on the other hand, are very insensitive especially in people who dont have symptoms.
Though they could miss small amounts of virus, theyre great at identifying large amounts. You have to have quite a bit of virus to turn the antigen test positive, Campbell said.
A large meta-analysisfound that rapid antigen tests detected about 72% of symptomatic cases confirmed positive by a PCR test. The rapid tests were less sensitive with asymptomatic infections, catching on average about 58% of those cases.
These rapid antigen tests, particularly the popular ones, are not good at detecting patients who are asymptomatically infected, said Benjamin Pinsky, medical director of Stanfords Clinical Virology Lab.
But this doesnt mean the rapid antigen tests are useless. Other studies have found that rapid antigen tests catch most of the cases that have a solid chance of being transmissible. The rapid antigen tests do this by their ability to identify large viral loads, which indicate a person could be pretty contagious.
You May Like: How Long Cvs Covid Test Results
Are Tests Covered By Insurance
Most at-home tests require payment upfront. Pixel by Labcorp is the only at-home test kit that doesnt require payment upfront.
Other tests, such as Phosphorus, offer financial assistance or work with your insurance to cover some costs.
You can also contact your health insurance to see if theyll reimburse you for the cost of the test. Some test kit providers, like EverlyWell, can also provide an itemized receipt for insurance reimbursement.
Binaxnow By Abbott Laboratories
The BinaxNow test is reported to agree with positive PCR tests 84.6% of the time and negative ones 98.5% of the time. You swab and place it into a card that then shows whether you are negative or positive. You can also get a temporary encrypted digital pass to display your results and you can virtually access a health guide to walk you through the process as you test.
Read Also: How Long Cvs Covid Test Results
Q: What Advice Do You Have For People Using At
A: People using home test kits should read and follow the instructions very carefully. A negative test should be interpreted with caution since the risk of a false negative is possible. A PCR test that includes laboratory processing will be more reliable and accurate, even though getting results may take longer than the rapid antigen test. In situations where itâs really critical to know if a person is infected with SARS-CoV-2 or not, a PCR test is better.
What To Know About False Positive Results
The problem with these tests is that their specificity is not as good as a PCR test, he says. You can get false positives, especially in low prevalence settings. Meaning, if you test positive for COVID-19 with a home test, you dont have symptoms of the virus, there isnt a lot of the virus circulating in your community, and youre fully vaccinated, you should give the results the side-eye and follow them up with a PCR test.
Worth noting: No COVID-19 test is 100% accurate and false readings can happen with PCR tests as well. Theyre just more likely when you dont have symptoms, Dr. Sellick says.
A manufacturing flaw can also lead to a false reading. Ellume announced this week that it was recalling specific lots of its home COVID tests due to an increased chance that tests from the affected lot numbers may give a false positive result. Nearly 200,000 test kits were impacted, or 5.6% of the 3.5 million tests the Australian-based company has shipped to the U.S., according to The New York Times. However, Ellume stresses that only the affected lots will give false positive results.
Again, at home COVID tests are pretty accurate. But if you have symptoms of COVID-19, you get a negative result, and your symptoms get worse or you lose your sense of taste and smell, Dr. Sellick recommends getting a PCR test as well.
You Might Also Like
Read Also: Hank Aaron Died From Vaccine
What Happens In The Lab
Home tests for COVID-19 that are sent to a laboratory for analysis involve using nucleic acid amplification to detect the presence of the virus.
According to Dr. Daniel Rhoads, section head of microbiology at the Cleveland Clinic, viruses have genomes that are made up of nucleic acids.
One way to detect small amounts of viral nucleic acid in a specimen is to use specialized chemistry and equipment to make more of a very small portion of the viruss genome, Rhoads said.
To do this, labs use an amplification method called polymerase chain reaction .
In this method, chemicals are used to double the nucleic acid each time the sample is warmed up and cooled down.
When these steps are performed repeatedly, it greatly increases the amount of nucleic acid until it finally reaches a detectable amount.
And when that happens, it can be inferred that the viruss nucleic acid must have been present in the original sample.
What Are Some Other Covid
The FDA is allowing use of a home saliva test from the Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory. You need a doctors prescription to get it. You spit into a vial and mail it to a lab, so its not a rapid test.
If you don’t want to do a test at home, a medical professional may be able to test you depending on your symptoms, risk factors, and whether youve been exposed to the virus. Heres what to do if you think you need to be tested:
Your doctor or hospital will tell you what to do next. This could include going to a clinic, going to a drive-through test location, or staying at home and away from other people to avoid spreading the disease.
Also Check: Is It Safe To Get A Massage During Covid
How Much Does It Matter Which At
Its not clear yet. The problem is that we dont have good data, including head-to-head comparisons for all of the FDA EUA rapid tests , so its hard to say which one of the three are better or worse, says Albert Ko, M.D., a professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Microbial Diseases at the School of Public Health.
Testing For Covid At Home Heres How To Start
Home collection and test kits fall into two buckets on the FDAs lists: molecular diagnostic tests and antigen diagnostic tests. The most well-known type of molecular test is the PCR test. Each one detects different parts of the Covid virus. The two testing methods are similar in that they can diagnose infection, and are performed on either nose or throat swabs. From there, the methods differ, and experts said those differences determine how reliable tests are and how you should use them.
Read Also: How Fast Are Cvs Covid Tests
How Accurate Are At
If you test positive in an at-home Covid test, youre very likely carrying the virus.
In the early months of the pandemic, getting a coronavirus test typically required visiting a health care center, a laboratory or a dedicated testing site, a process that sometimes involved long lines and waiting a week or more to get the results.
Americans can now take rapid virus tests from the comfort of their own homes. Many of these tests are available without a prescription and return results in just 15 minutes.
Demand for the tests has surged in recent months, as the highly infectious Delta variant has spread and schools and offices have reopened. All the manufacturers are ramping up production, but right now they can be hard to find, said Gigi Gronvall, a testing expert at Johns Hopkins University.
Although rapid tests have their limitations, they are an important public health tool, experts said, particularly if you know how to use them.
Having that information and being able to make better decisions is very powerful, said Mara Aspinall, an expert in biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University who is also on the board of directors of OraSure, which makes rapid Covid tests. And the ability to do this on a while-you-wait basis is something that we couldnt do a year ago.
How The Tests Work
Most currently available tests involve taking your own sample at home and then shipping the sample off to a lab for processing.
While there are slight variations among the test providers, the general process is that youll need a physicians approval to obtain testing.
In most cases, if you dont have a personal physician to order the test, the labs will allow you to take an online screening survey. The results of your survey are then reviewed by their own physician, and an order for testing is issued.
Youll then need to make arrangements for how to pay for the test, whether thats through your health insurance, a health savings account , a flexible savings account , credit card, or a special provision through your employer.
Once payment has been arranged, test kits are mailed to your home.
Upon receipt of your testing kit, youll follow the provided instructions and either take a saliva sample or a nasal swab, depending on what the particular lab uses.
Youll then return your sample to the lab for testing, either by mail or at a drop-off location designated by the test provider.
Results are generally available online within a few days.
In addition, some labs may provide virtual support, either during sample collection or to discuss the results.
Don’t Miss: Can You Take Advil After The Covid Vaccine
How Reliable And Accurate Are The Results
Though PCR tests may not turn around results as quickly as rapid antigen tests, they are still considered the gold standard when it comes to COVID-19 testing. This is because PCR tests are generally more sensitive than rapid antigen tests, meaning they are better able to detect low amounts of the virus. Therefore, they are better able to detect COVID-19 early on in an infection than rapid antigen tests.
Meanwhile, rapid antigen tests are generally accurate if someone is experiencing symptoms when there is a higher amount of the virus in the body. As antigen tests are less sensitive than PCR tests, they may not detect COVID-19 in the early phases of an infection. As a result, false negatives are more common with these tests. If you use a rapid test too early after a recent exposure, or if youre asymptomatic, you may still have COVID-19 even if your test comes back negative.
I Tested Negativeam I Good To Go
People who received two negative antigen test results or one negative test-by-mail PCR result should feel confident they dont have COVID-19 and can go to work or interact with others.
According to the CDC, even those with symptoms who correctly followed the self-test directions and got a negative result can rest assured they dont have COVID-19.
Recommended Reading: How Long Cvs Covid Test Results
How Does The Ellume Covid
PARSONS: The Ellume test is the first FDA-authorized COVID-19 test that does not need a prescription and can be done completely at home. Results appear on the users smartphone in 15 minutes. Users may share results with their doctor, employer, public health department, or school.
We designed the test kits to be easy to use, with little chance for human error. Remember that people may be sick and not at their best when they run the test. Studies showed that 96% of users find home tests easy to use. Ninety-five percent were confident about using the test kits at home, and more than 99% read their results correctly.
Quidel Quickvue Rapid Test
How to use: Like Abbott’s BinaxNOW test, the Quidel antigen test also works like a pregnancy test. First, you take a nasal swab, then mix the swab with a tube of liquid for one minute. Next, you place the swab in the detector strip. Two lines mean a positive result.
Accuracy: For people with symptoms, the QuickVue test correctly gave a positive result 83.5% of the time. It also correctly gave a negative result 99.2% of the time.
Availability: This test is not yet available to the general public.
Also Check: Does Cvs Charge For Covid Testing