As we continue to deal with the pandemic and its effects, testing for COVID-19 has played a pivotal role. Monitoring for symptoms, combined with regular testing using a COVID test kit, is one of the critical ways to stem the spread of COVID-19. While there are many kinds of COVID-19 tests available, the scientific process behind the tests varies as they detect different parts of the virus. Some can take longer, and some deliver results instantaneously. The tests also vary in sensitivity and what level of the virus they are able to detect.
Rapid antigen testing is one method of testing for COVID-19, among others. This post will explain what an antigen test is and look at the other kinds of tests available for detecting COVID-19.
What is an antigen test?
Antigen tests are a non-invasive way to test for COVID-19. The results are delivered in 15 minutes or less, making them a rapid, accurate form of testing to detect someone’s COVID-19 status.
The purpose of an antigen test is to identify, as you might have already guessed, antigens in the body. Antigens are a substance that induces the body to produce an immune response, i.e., antibodies to fight against it. For example, viruses like COVID-19 are considered an antigen since the body must produce antibodies to fight against the virus.
Antigen testing is conducted using a nasal swab. Once a sample is collected, the swab is dipped in a solution for treatment and to separate some of the cells and particles. Once that’s done, the liquid is applied to a test strip, which contains lab-made antibodies that are specific to COVID-19. If antigens are detected in the sample, the test strip will bind to them, and a colored line appears to indicate that COVID-19 is present.
Rapid testing such as antigen testing is one of the primary ways to help slow the spread of COVID-19 since it can detect COVID must faster compared to other kinds of testing. It’s also an independent form of testing rather than requiring a lab. In addition, antigen tests tend to work particularly well if someone is feeling symptomatic or has a heavy viral load in their system.
Antigen tests have become an accepted form of testing because they yield fast results and a quick testing process; antigen testing is currently one of the best options available. COVID antigen test kits like the Flowflex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test also come with easy-to-read test cards. You can use antigen testing kits like the Flowflex whether someone is symptomatic or asymptomatic but has been in the presence of COVID-19.
You can find a list of FDA-approved antigen tests here.
Antigen tests vs. PCR tests: Understanding the differences
Conducting an antigen test is one way to detect the presence of COVID-19. As the CDC notes, there are quite a few categories of testing available. Some, like a PCR test, may require time for processing versus an antigen test. There are other factors involved as well that could impact the choice of what kind of test to use. All of the tests for COVID-19 will require a nasal swab as the first step, though.
Before we dive into the differences, let’s first look at what a PCR test actually is. After a nasal sample is collected from the patient, a technique called polymerase chain reaction is used to detect traces of COVID-19 by amplifying genetic material. Specialized laboratory equipment is needed, and the tests must be conducted by a healthcare professional. PCR testing is highly sensitive and accurate and does not have as many requirements, so it’s currently being used.
One of the key differences between antigen testing and PCR testing is how they are conducted. Antigen testing can be done at home and does not require any special equipment asides from the test kit. Also, compared to PCR testing, antigen tests are less expensive. While PCR tests can go into hundreds of dollars, antigen tests are relatively cheaper and easier to access.
Another reason why antigen tests have become more common is because of how quickly they deliver results. PCR tests can take up to a day to get results because of the technique used to detect COVID. Comparatively, antigen tests can get results in 15 minutes or less. It’s a quick and simple test that provides accurate results to help you and your family detect the presence of COVID.
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