COVID-19: Rapid Antigen Tests

To make COVID testing easier and more available, rapid antigen tests (RATs) are being offered at some pharmacies, funded for:

  • Asymptomatic, unvaccinated individuals over 12 years and 3 months leaving Auckland and
  • Asymptomatic, unvaccinated domestic travellers over 12 years and 3 months from any other part of the country, who travel with a transport company that requires evidence of a negative test result.

The nice thing about the RATs is they are less invasive than the tests used in the community testing centres (CTCs) and give a result in under 30-minutes. We’ll take a look at the tests:

  1. Polymerase Chain Reaction tests (PCRs)
    The more accurate test for detecting COVID-19 uses a method called Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction which looks for genetic material from the virus. Having the genetic material allows for whole genome sequencing, a useful tool in tracing an outbreak. To gather a sample for this test, a health worker swabs the back of your nose or throat and front of your nose with a cotton bud. It is then sent to a lab for analysis and results are normally returned within 48-hours.
  2. Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs)
    The rapid antigen tests detects specific pieces (antigens) on the outside of the virus, such as the spike protein. They are not as accurate as the PCR tests, especially if a person is asymptomatic or have a low viral load and so a positive result is verified with a PCR test. Using RATs frequently for screening improves their reliability. A sample is collected by rolling a swab around the front of the nose, just enough to make you want to sneeze. The sample is placed onto an indicator device which changes colour depending on the result, similar to a pregnancy test, giving a result within 30-minutes. A quick result reduces the amount of time a person testing positive is active in the community.

Initially, RATs will be performed under the supervision of a healthcare professional, including some Pharmacists. They do not replace the PCR tests for diagnosis or vaccination.



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