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Rapid Antigen Testing is the Best Complement to PCR Screening

by Julio Santos January 21, 2022

While recent advancements in COVID-19 vaccine development have been promising, testing, tracking, tracing, and isolating (TTTI) strategies remain critical to minimizing the current scourge of the virus. Only TTTI can prevent surges in the number of new cases until the entire population is fully immunized.

There are two primary forms of testing techniques that can be deployed for this purpose – molecular testing and rapid antigen testing.

Molecular testing, particularly RT-PCR, is still the gold standard for detecting the virus in individuals. These tests are quite reliable, with excellent sensitivity and specificity. However, due to capacity limits and the relatively high cost of RT-PCR assays, it is not as widespread. It also takes a long time for test results to be generated.

 

woman working in a test lab

 

The main benefit of rapid antigen tests is that they give significantly faster results. They are also easy to use, can be done at the point of care, and are less expensive than molecular tests. These benefits make rapid antigen testing relevant for large-scale use. They are, however, less reliable than molecular tests, as those have high specificity, and rapid tests’ sensitivity is only moderate.

The purpose of the testing strategy should guide the selection of the suitable test, taking into account the advantages and disadvantages. Given their ability to be employed quickly and at scale, rapid antigen tests are best used to monitor certain population groups, like when a new cluster of infections is suspected to occur. Rapid antigen tests can be helpful for rapid triaging. However, this might require repeat tests done for negative results in 24 to 72 hours. Rapid antigen tests are the only viable choice for mass screening among the general population.

On the other hand, molecular testing has remained the better method in a clinical setting for diagnosing patients and informing treatment decisions. This is because it is more reliable and reduces the risk of a missed diagnosis. For persons who have symptoms or have been in contact with a confirmed COVID case, molecular tests are the better option for informing TTTI strategies. In such cases, however, rapid antigen testing may be an initial alternative to molecular diagnostics, although repeat testing or confirmatory molecular tests may be required.

Evidently, rapid antigen tests must complement molecular testing to make headway with TTTI strategies. But then, this is not the first time a rapid screening method would come in handy alongside a gold standard laboratory test.

Where Have We Seen This Before? 

Rapid test kits have been developed for various diseases, including hepatitis B and C, and malaria. But the example that comes to mind in this instance is the impact of rapid test kits in diagnosing HIV.

Early diagnosis reduces the transmission rate and improves patients' outcomes as they begin treatment early. Over the years, the introduction and promotion of HIV self-testing techniques resulted in more people taking the test and many people knowing their retroviral statuses. Being able to take the test privately probably further motivated this decision against the more expensive and time-consuming laboratory testing. 

While it is true that coronavirus and HIV are not the same viruses, this same method could prove helpful in massive COVID screening. Although the test is not perfect and some infected cases will be missed, rapid antigen testing remains the most viable testing option to supplement massive PCR screening. 

Rapid antigen testing is fast becoming the cornerstone of coronavirus mass community screening. A test kit like the one available here at MyZone is a reliable tool that can complement massive testing alongside molecular testing. Using powerful Boson technology, the kit is approved and recommended by various health authorities worldwide, including Health Canada, for professional use.

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