RATs can be costly, make sure you're doing them correctly

COVID has invaded every part of our lives to the point where most people have had at least one PCR or rapid antigen test (RAT).

While PCR tests are usually conducted in a clinical setting and the results are generally conclusive, RATs are ‘home’ tests and the results are less sensitive and less likely to pick up very early infections.

Graham Gordon, CEO of Gardian and developer of Gardian Test Tracker and the Self Check app, says it’s important that we understand the differences between products before using rapid antigen tests.

Taking the test properly is vital to the results and there are a six key reasons why you may receive a false negative or false positive and most of them relate to how you undertake the test, says Mr Gordon. He tells how you can be as sure as possible that the result is accurate.

Read: How accurate is your RAT? It’s about more than looking for lines    

Storage and stability

Store RATs in a cool environment. Don’t leave them in the car while you go shopping or off to a yoga session. RATs should be stored between two and 30 degrees and kept away from direct sunlight, moisture or heat. Of course, always stick to the use-by dates.

Hygiene and safety

As with any medical procedure, administer the test in the most sterile conditions you can achieve. Use a clean, flat surface to work on and wash your hands with soap or sanitiser before administering the test. Do not touch the business end of the swab (the bit that goes in your nose) as it will immediately contaminate the sample.

Time allocations

Each test has its own time restrictions if you have been smoking, drinking, chewing gum, brushing your teeth or eating. You should also note how long the test will take and even how long the test should be left open before using. Read these carefully before opening the test.

Read: Concession card holders are eligible for free RATs    

Collecting the sample

Taking a nasal sample can be confronting. It’s important to get the sample from the right area. Insert the soft end of the swab into one of your nostrils no more than two to three centimetres. Going further in does not guarantee a better result.

Transferring to the buffer
This step can be the most challenging, especially for anyone with mobility issues, so take things carefully and slowly. Most RATs have pipettes that need to be twisted open and the buffer solution transferred to a plastic vial. If the sample is spilt or bubbles generated, there may not be enough solution or they may interfere with the result. Also, make sure to put the exact number of recommended drops into the sample.

Read: When is it safe to socialise after recovering from COVID-19?

Reading the cassette

Place it on a clean, flat surface with the window facing upwards. Resist any temptation to touch it until the allocated time has passed and the results clearly identified. Moving a test before the time limit can lead to an inaccurate result.

“The biggest risk with rapid antigen tests is when people are falsely reassured by a false negative,” says Mr Gordon.

“If they are to undertake any behaviour that could facilitate spread, that would be a serious thing for everybody.”

Have you had trouble testing at home? Have you needed help? Have you been able to access RATs? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Jan Fisher

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