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article imageOp-Ed: Is at-home COVID-19 testing a good idea?

By Tim Sandle     Mar 4, 2021 in Science
A new antigen test has been give the seal approval in the U.S. to enable rapid diagnosis of COVID-19 (to assess an infected person). But how accurate are these 'lateral flow' tests?
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has announced they are evaluating a rapid, at-home COVID-19 testing system. The test is the Quidel QuickVue At-Home COVID-19 Test. The test comes with an app which provides an independent confirmation of the result, provided that the user creates a digital image of the test strip with the smartphone camera. In terms of the type of test, it is an antigen test with the test sample drawn from a nasal swab.
While the ability to conduct a rapid test at home is an attractive one, antigen tests are designed to provide results for diagnosing an active coronavirus infection relatively quickly and far faster than molecular tests. However, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises, antigen tests have a higher chance of missing an active infection. in some cases the false negative result has been up to 60 percent, when directly compared with molecular tests.
That said, a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test may not be completely appropriate with which to compare the antigen test with. This is because PCR is testing for whether a person is or has been infected whereas antigen testing is for whether a person is infectious at the time point when the test was taken.
Moreover, antigen tests are recognized as suitable for monitoring use only and they are not recommended by the UK government for testing individuals displaying symptoms of COVID-19. In these cases the PCR testing provided by the health services is recommended.
The accuracy of the lateral flow tests for individuals is poor which means that although they have a good chance of identifying clusters of infections, they are far less effective in identifying individual asymptomatic infections which means that even in the event of a negative result there is still a risk that an individual has COVID-19 and could pass it on.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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