Published on July 11, 2021
Updated on January 19, 2022
The rapid antigen test (RAT) kits approved to detect the COVID-19 infection at home are being increasingly used during the third wave in India. These could be particularly useful in individuals who cannot go to a health center for the test, such as in bedridden patients or even in those who are unwilling to step out of the house, fearing the risk of an infection.
RAT Home Kits – Select the Right One
Several RAT home kits are available, both online and in local pharmacies. Select a device that is approved by local authorities. A list of home kits approved for use in India by the Indian Council of Medical Research is available at https://www.icmr.gov.in/ckitevaluation.html
RAT Home Kits – Follow the Instruction
The test is easy to perform and gives quick results. The instructions that accompany the kit should be carefully followed to increase the accuracy of the result. The testing sample must be obtained from the nose with the swab provided with the kit. Adults can collect the sample on their own, while in children 2 years and older, the sample should be obtained by an adult. The swab is then mixed in a buffer solution provided with the kit, which is then added to the testing device.
RAT Home Kits – Easy to Interpret
The testing device is similar to the one in the image above. It has two invisible lines, labelled C for control and T for the test result. When the buffer solution is added, the C line must turn dark. If it does not, it means that the test was not performed correctly. If the T line turns dark, the patient is positive for COVID-19. If it does not, the test result is negative, but COVID-19 cannot be completely ruled out, as explained below. The lines should be read within the recommended period which is usually 15 minutes; a late reading may not be reliable.
RAT Home Kits – Upload the Results
After the procedure, there is an important step to complete. The result must be uploaded to the mobile app associated with the kit to obtain the report. The result will be shared with the national COVID-19 database so that adequate assistance can be provided to the patient at the earliest. Concerns have been raised about people skipping this step. As a result, some State governments in India have introduced a requirement to submit identity details while purchasing the kits.
RAT Home Kits – Dispose with Care
A concern remains regarding the proper disposal of the kit since it could contain infected material. Though any virus, if present, is killed in the buffer solution, the kit should be placed in the disposal bag and disposed according to the COVID-19 guidelines.
RAT Home Kits – Interpret with Caution
The self-testing home kits could especially be useful during a COVID-19 wave, when the testing centers are overwhelmed, and health personnel may not be able to come home to collect the sample. However, the test is not a substitute for a RT-PCR test, which remains the gold standard. Some people who harbor the virus test negative especially in the early stages when the patient is asymptomatic, resulting in a false sense of assurance. Therefore, it has been advised that if a person suffers from COVID-19 related symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat and the test result is negative, the test should be followed by an RT-PCR test. However, if the test turns out positive, the result is confirmed, and no further testing is required.
Most RAT tests detect the Omicron variant though they may be less sensitive; current evidence indicates that the test is more likely to detect the variant in people with symptoms when the virus load is high when compared to individuals without symptoms.
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