Covid-19 third wave: Are self-testing kits accurate and reliable?

Self-testing kits for Covid-19 are finding several takers amidst the rising number of cases, but if you're wondering if these are accurate, read on!
home testing kit for Covid-19
Showing symptoms of Covid-19? Tried the self-testing kit yet? Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Radhika Bhirani Published: 11 Jan 2022, 21:15 pm IST
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The onset of the New Year has seen Covid-19 cases spiral away unprecedentedly once again, across the world. The surge is visible and palpable even in India, where the demand for self-testing kits is rising by the days. That’s not to say that people are refraining from home collection of samples and lab testing. No, not at all! But with the super-spreader Omicron variant doing the rounds, people are finding it increasingly accessible to self-test even at the slightest of doubts of contracting the deadly virus. But are self-testing kits reliable?

The question may have been on people’s mind already, but what added more fuel to the spark was a recent Instagram post by television actor Erica Fernandez. Erica, who tested positive for Covid-19 along with her mother earlier this month, sent out a word of caution against the use of home-testing kits, via her
social media account.

“One note of advice. DO NOT rely on the home test (Coviself kit) because they are not reliable at all,” she wrote while detailing how three self-home tests showed negative. Not satisfied with the results because her cough and sore throat was becoming only worse, she went for the lab test which confirmed she was Covid-19 positive.

That brings us to the question again!

Are Covid-19 self testing kits accurate?

According to Dr Mangesh Tiwaskar, Honorary General Secretary, Association of Physicians of India, testing strategies need to evolve with the evolution of the pandemic itself.

“Testing remains a cornerstone of Covid-19 management along with other critical public health measures, but diversified testing strategies must be adopted. Rapid antigen self-tests, for instance, are convenient, easy-to-use, and scalable solutions, offering results in just 15 minutes,” Tiwaskar tells HealthShots.

While RT-PCR is considered the be all and end all for Covid-19 testing, the rising demand amidst the recent surge is leading to delays of 1-2 days in results.

covid-19 test
RT-PCR tests have been considered most reliable. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

So, one of the prime advantages of home-testing is the fact that infected individuals are identified sooner, prompting isolation and contact tracing to break the chain of transmission. In that case, if you confusing whether you have cold and flu or Covid-19, you can be a little more sure!

However, according to reports, medical experts are concerned that positive cases are going unreported. This is happening because people are not following the protocol of uploading their result on the corresponding app.

So far, the Indian Council of Medical Research has approved 12 Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) over-the-counter kits that are also available online. Of these, most require nasal swabs, while others are based on a saliva sample.

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Dr Tiwaskar says, “These are of high quality, equipped with high sensitivity and specificity, and backed by significant research. Thus, such tests prove to be a reliable tool and facilitate protection, supporting India’s safe and prompt response to the current surge in cases.”

Also Read: Can you take an Omicron test at home? Let’s find out

covid-19 symptoms
Even the slightest of cold or flu is leading people to test for Covid-19. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How to use self-test Covid-19 kits?

Self-testing by RAT is advised only in symptomatic individuals and immediate contacts of laboratory confirmed positive cases, as per ICMR.

The ICMR also advises:

All individuals who test positive may be considered as true positives and no repeat testing is required

All symptomatic individuals who test negative by RAT should get themselves immediately tested by RT-PCR. This is especially important as the RATs are likely to miss few positive cases presenting with a low viral load. All RAT negative symptomatic individuals may be treated as suspect Covid-19 cases and are advised to follow the home isolation protocol while awaiting the RT-PCR test result.

The self-testing kits, priced from Rs 250, mostly come with a pre-filled extraction tube, a test card, a sterile nasal swab, disposable bag and an instruction manual.

Before you get set to take the test, keep these points by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in mind:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Dry them.
  2. Open the box and follow the instructions included with the self-test to collect your own nasal or saliva specimen.
  3. If you don’t collect the specimens as directed, your test results may be incorrect.

    washing hands covid-19
    Washing hands is most important – not just as a safety measure amid the pandemic, but also before you take the home test! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Steps to conduct the Covid-19 test at home

  1. Tear the pouch.
  2. Download the corresponding app on your smartphone. Fill your credentials before taking the test.
  3. First take pre-filled extraction tube, tap it gently 3-4 times to ensure that the liquid settles at the bottom.
  4. Unscrew the cap and hold the tube in your hand.
  5. Open the sterile nasal safe swab while holding the tube in your hand. Avoid touching the swab end.
  6. Now insert the sterile nasal safe swab in both your nostrils one after the other up to 2-4 cms.
  7. Roll the swab five times in each nostril.
  8. Dip the nasal swab in the pre-filled extraction tube.
  9. Ensure that the swab is immersed in the liquid.
  10. Now Find the break point and break the swab.
  11. Cover the tube with the nozzle cap.
  12. Now, take the test card and add two drops into the well by pressing the tube.
  13. Wait for 15 to 20 minutes for the results to appear

How to read the result of Covid-19 self-testing kit?

If there is only a quality Control Line ‘C’, and no test like ‘T’, it indicates that the result is negative. If the quality Control line ‘C’is not observed, it will be invalid regardless of whether there is detection line ‘T’.

Singer-composer Vishal Dadlani recently posted a shot of his self-testing kit’s result on Instagram.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by VISHAL (@vishaldadlani)

According to Dr Tiwaskar, following the instructions carefully is a key part of conducting these self-tests.

“As a next step, report the test results on the self-test designated app. This will help the person seek medical intervention on time while ensuring accurate data to help India’s current battle against Covid-19. Finally, the instructions must be followed through even for the disposal of the test kit, swab and other materials,” he adds.

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About the Author

Radhika Bhirani is a journalist with close to 15 years of experience in the Indian media industry. After writing extensively on health, lifestyle and entertainment, she leads the English content team at Health Shots. She has a special interest in writing on mental health and wellness. ...Read More

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