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How Reliable Are COVID-19 Tests?

For two straight years and counting, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to steal the limelight from any other global issues. Though we can see a significant improvement in curbing the virus transmission through vaccines and booster shots, COVID-19 tests haven’t lost their appeal to the general public and the medical field.

Rapid antigen tests are growing in popularity even if we think the pandemic is near its twilight. This is because we need to be prepared to protect ourselves from the virus whether you had COVID-19 in the past or will have another soon.

But how reliable are COVID-19 tests? 

At-Home Rapid Tests vs. Lab Tests

COVID-19 testing kits are a popular way to determine one's risk level for the virus and get a diagnosis. They are available for purchase online, in pharmacies and other stores, and more people are using them every day. However, with the abundance of tests, how do rapid antigen tests compare with those in the lab or doctor’s clinic?

Understanding the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Test

In the lab, your doctor will collect a PCR sample by inserting a swab into your nostril (thus, the swab test). This takes back the cells from your nose. Other times, a swab test is done through a saliva test. Either way, a PCR test examines the genetic material or the presence of the virus in your system. 

The results from PCR tests may take longer than a rapid antigen test. However, if the test is performed by a health expert, the results are accurate. 

Understanding Rapid Antigen Tests

COVID-19 rapid tests produce results faster, as they can determine the presence of COVID-19 within minutes. Still, the test is performed on a single drop of blood, saliva or nasal swab for it to be detected.

If you are having symptoms of COVID-19, you can perform a test at home if you need instant results. Whilst they may offer quick results, sometimes they miss. This is why they are less than accurate compared to PCR tests.

However, rapid antigen tests can be a good way to test for COVID-19 when conducted with proper timing and strict adherence to the testing kit’s instructions. Sometimes, whilst used alone, the probability of human error is high. But the best time to get accurate information is during the day you feel you have the symptoms.

You may be infected with the virus, but your rapid test says you’re negative—this means the test yielded a false-negative result. False-negative serves as a precaution because one may think it is safe to engage socially. On the other hand, false-positive results can be as equally dangerous as false-negative because they will put a lot of stress on the affected person, leading them to make crucial decisions that impact their productivity in daily living.

For accuracy, many healthcare providers order COVID-19 lab tests or imaging scans to confirm a diagnosis. These tests help rule out other health issues or determine the severity of your condition. Tests can also show if your condition is improving or worsening. Other tests can detect or rule out conditions that may mimic COVID-19. 

When should I seek a lab or healthcare facility test and when should I employ a rapid test?

Whilst we have a better perception of the usefulness of both tests, you can use any of the tests according to your unique circumstance. 

PCR tests are considered the gold standard for COVID-19 tests. Though results may be delayed compared to rapid antigen tests, these tests are usually done in the lab by health practitioners who are fully equipped to determine the accuracy of the results.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek a COVID-19 test: 

  • You have a fever or cough.
  • You have lost your taste or smell.
  • You feel dizzy and lightheaded.
  • Your heart is beating quickly.
  • You have chest pain. 
  • Your breathing is irregular, or there is an unusual odor coming from your mouth or nose.
  • You are suffering from fatigue, confusion, nausea and vomiting. 
  • You have a headache combined with other problems, such as vomiting, blurred vision or dizziness.

Using rapid antigen to detect COVID-19 at home is still your best shot if you want quick results. If you have the symptoms, especially, or you know you have interacted with someone with COVID infection, at-home rapid antigen tests will give you a good sense of whether you are infected or not, so you know what to do next. 

Yes, rapid antigen tests are reliable. Although not 100%, you can still bank on 90% accuracy rather than having no tests at all and relying on hunches. Additionally, you can always rely on PCR tests if you’re unsure of your rapid test results.

How can I be sure I'm correctly conducting a COVID-19 test at home?

Given that you purchase a rapid antigen testing kit to be brought at home, following the manufacturer’s instructions is essential before using the test. 

To use a COVID-19 test at home, you need to prepare your supplies. These include a COVID-19 test kit, a flat surface where you can swab a person’s body and a clean, dry container where you can put the swabs.

You should also observe these simple rules:

  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions so the test can yield accurate results.
  • Wash hands before and after collecting nasal specimens to be used for the test.
  • If the result is positive, it means you have an infection and should observe the standard isolation and preventive health protocols.
  • If you have a positive result, consult a physician immediately.
  • If the results are negative, it doesn’t mean ruling out an infection. If you don’t trust the result, you can repeat the procedure after 24 to 48 hours. 
  • Discard the used test stick in the trash. Do not throw it in the sewage.
  • Use alcohol or bleach wipes to decontaminate the area where the test was applied and the container/tube it came with.

Which COVID-19 at-home test is the better one?

There’s no right or wrong answer to which is the better at-home COVID-19 test. Ideally, at-home tests are not literally conducted ‘at home’. They can be used ‘anywhere’. Lastly, at-home rapid COVID test kits offer results in minutes and can be bought over the counter.

Dexcon | Leading Medical Device and PPE Supplier in Australia

As the surge of COVID-19 infection may have waned, the presence of variants, such as Delta and Omicron, continue to scare people around the world. Whilst grappling for COVID-19 tests, you may be one of those to ask where to buy rapid antigen test kits.

Many people prefer at-home rapid antigen tests in place of laboratory-based COVID testing due to their convenience. In the hopes to alleviate their concern if infected with the virus, people have the comfort to purchase rapid antigen test kits over the counter or online.

If you can’t get your hands on a rapid antigen test, Dexcon is one place you can depend on for supplies. We offer a wide range of PPE and medical products, especially on COVID-related issues. And we sell globally.

For emergency or wholesale needs of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests and PPE needs, send in your enquiries here.

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