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Why a rapid test negative result is not enough

by Julio Santos January 12, 2022

One of the most critical aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is screening and detection. Early detection of the infection reduces the possibility of more spreading and makes contact tracing less challenging. These elements make the availability of reliable diagnostic tools essential in the fight against the scourge.

Early identification of COVID cases also means earlier treatment and reducing the risk of complications, hospitalization, and death. While there is no international consensus on the treatment modality, various options have proven effective in managing COVID-19 cases.

COVID-19 testing methods

lab tubes

Over time, various screening methods for COVID-19 have been developed, each one having its benefits and downsides. These tests vary significantly from the sample collection method to the testing process, its accuracy and duration. 

COVID-19 tests can be classified best based on the element they collect and test; mainly, there are antibody and antigen tests.

Rapid antigen COVID tests

Rapid test kits are antigen testing tools used for diagnosing COVID-19. They use test swabs from the nose or mouth (saliva) and require about 30 minutes to complete the process and get the result. Antigens are proteins from the virus which the test can quickly identify.

There are now many brands producing rapid antigen test kits and are helpful to get urgent COVID-19 results. However, there are concerns regarding the accuracy of these test kits. 

Pros

  • Rapid tests can be self-administered without going to a testing centre.
  • The result can be ready within 30 minutes.
  • They are accessible and affordable.

Cons

  • Incidences of false-positive and false-negative COVID test results

Why a rapid test negative result is not enough

rapid negative result

Despite their remarkable benefits, rapid test kits are not the gold standard in diagnosing COVID-19. This is mainly because a negative test result does not necessarily rule out the possibility of an infection.

The accuracy of the test depends on at what stage of the infection the sample is collected. Early testing soon after exposure might not be accurate as the volume of the virus in the body might not be high enough. In this case, false-negative COVID results are more likely to appear.

On the other hand, a false-positive COVID test is more likely to occur when the user doesn’t follow the manufacturer’s instructions or accidentally tampers the sample. A faint line could also be a pointer to a false-positive or negative test. 

What to do if you test negative but show symptoms

  • Isolate for 24 hours right away.
  • Have a repeat test in 24 hours.
  • If the new test is still negative, isolate yourself until the symptoms go away before resuming normal activities.
  • Continue isolation if the results are positive:
  • For fully vaccinated people: 5 days or until symptoms disappear.
  • For unvaccinated people: wait ten days or until their symptoms go away.

Tips on how to get accurate rapid results

man self testing

  • Check the expiry date and don't use expired kits.
  • Keep tests at room temperature.
  • Blow the nose before collecting a nasal swab sample. Don't eat or drink for at least 10 minutes before taking a saliva sample.
  • Avoid contaminations. Don't touch the end of the swab that goes into the nose.
  • Strictly follow the sample collection instructions on the kit.
  • Read the result at the stipulated time, even if the result is displayed before.
  • Use approved and high-quality test kits like the MyZone Test Kits.

Why PCR is still the gold standard

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test detects the presence of the virus' RNA even before the antibodies against the virus develop, or the person becomes symptomatic. PCR testing is the gold standard in COVID-19 screening because it has fewer probabilities of yielding false-positive or false-negative COVID results.

Although saliva samples can be collected and tested, the gold standard for PCR is the nasopharyngeal swab.

The PCR result should be ready in 24 hours but might take longer depending on the testing sites.

Pros

PCR testing is the most reliable and accurate method of COVID-19 testing. It is less likely to have false-negative COVID test, making it the best option for early-stage infection and asymptomatic patients.

Cons

  • The results take at least 24 hours.
  • Difficult access for mobility-impaired folk.

How to make the best out of at-home testing

man getting a pcr

Despite being the gold standard in terms of accuracy, there are still many limitations that come with PCR testing. On the other hand, rapid tests offer quick results and high availability. 

For instance, a rapid antigen test is one of the most effective and reliable methods for detecting the Omicron variant. Even Health Canada has approved the MyZone Test Kits for COVID testing and has reassured its usage for Omicron detection.

Rapid test kits remain more than beneficial during the pandemic, helping trace contagion hotspots when applied periodically. Their higher accessibility also makes them the best complement to PCR testing. Get fast delivery on your MyZone Test Kits and use them to test yourself before and after any social gathering.

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