Published on July 11, 2021
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently approved rapid antigen test (RAT) kits that enable individuals in India to test for COVID-19 at home. The kits may be used by those with symptoms similar to COVID-19 and immediate contacts of confirmed positive cases. They could be particularly useful in those individuals who cannot go to a health centers for a 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.
The test is extremely easy to perform and gives quick results. The instructions that accompany the kit should be carefully followed to ensure its maximum usefulness. The testing sample must be obtained with the swab provided with the kit from the nose. 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.
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.
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 at the earliest.
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.
The self-testing home kits could especially be useful during the peak of a COVID-19 wave, when the testing centers are overwhelmed, and health personnel may not be easily available to come home to collect the sample. However, it must be remembered that the test is a rapid antigen test. Such tests may not always give an accurate result, and an RT-PCR test at a healthcare center is still the gold standard. Some people who harbor the virus may get a negative result, resulting in a false sense of assurance. Therefore, it has been advised that if a person suffers from COVID-19 related symptoms 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.
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