Just how effective are COVID-19 self test kits, everything you should know

With the country witnessing the sudden surge in cases, the demand for at-home COVID-19 test kits has shot up significantly. In the initial stages or those with minor symptoms are preferring to avoid undergoing RT PCR tests at medical centres and instead prefer to test themselves at home.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has till date approved 12 Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits that anybody can easily use at home and get a report on their COVID-19 status. Molecular PCR testing is said to be more accurate but rapid home tests are more prompt in delivering results and are cost-effective.

However, discussions around its accuracy and whether or not it can detect the new Omicron variant is ongoing. ICMR has currently advised symptomatic individuals (who have been in close contact with COVID positive people) to use home testing by Rapid Antigen Test.

How home testing kits work

It is of utmost importance that you wash your hands and sanitise them before conducting any test.

Do not forget to download the app mentioned in the testing kit and fill in your credentials.

Tear the testing pouch and lay it down on a clean surface. Ensure that you take the test within 30 minutes after opening.

Gently tab the pre-filled extraction tube on the table for the liquid to settle. Unscrew the cap and hold it in your hand.

While holding the tube in one hand, open the sterile nasal safe swab and do not touch the swab end.

Slowly insert the nasal safe swap in both your nostrils one after the other up to 2-4 cms. Roll the swab five times in each nostril.

Immerse the swab in the pre-filled extraction tube and break it where needed. Lastly, cover the tube with the nozzle cap.

Please see that any result that appears post 20 minutes will be considered invalid.

Disposal of the swab and other components of the test kit must be done properly to avoid inadvertently spreading the infection.

How to determine the result

At-home COVID-19 test kits are not 100 percent accurate. This suggests that there can be possibilities of getting wrong results.

Test kit either shows two lines next to the letters C and T suggesting positive result or displays only one line next to C, suggesting a negative result.

Experts say the interpretation window plays a significant role in determining COVID-19 test results.

If any line appears before the end of the interpretation window, that is 20 minutes, whatever the result, it is possibly accurate.

However, if the line emerges after the interpretation window, means after 20 minutes then this does not count as a positive/negative test.

For most at-home COVID-19 test kits it is 30 minutes, although some may have a shorter window of around 15 minutes.

What’s more accurate

As compared to molecular or PCR testing, at-home COVID-19 test kits may not be the same in terms of accuracy.

The chances of getting a false positive or negative is much higher with at-home rapid antigen tests than in a PCR test.

The at-home rapid antigen test only looks at the protein part, and not the entire virus RNA.

Rapid testing uses a technology that traces the protein in the virus strain and reveals whether a person is infected or not.

Molecular testing helps detect the RNA or the genetic component of the virus, which is likely to present the most accurate results.

Home testing kits available in India

Mylab CoviSelf test kit can be used by adults 18 years and above and performed with CoviSelf App to register and report results.

Panbio COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test is a single-use, in vitro (outside the body) visually read rapid immunoassay.

It uses a human nasal swab specimen for the qualitative detection of nucleocapsid protein SARS-CoV-2 antigen.

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