The number of COVID-19 cases are on the rise in New South Wales and Victoria, and PCR testing sites are getting inundated – not just in the two most populous states but in Tasmania, Queensland and the ACT too.
To avoid long queues and even longer waiting periods to receive results – up to five days, in some places – many are turning to rapid antigen test kits. At least, as the first course of diagnosis.
While rapid antigen test kits are still banned in Western Australia and South Australia, people in other states and territories can buy and use them.
But what exactly are rapid antigen test kits? Where can you buy them? Which brand should you buy? How much do they cost? How do you test yourself? And just how effective are they?
Here are all your questions answered.
What are rapid antigen test kits?
COVID-19 testing sites across Australia conduct PCR tests, which look for SARS-CoV-2 genetic material to diagnose infections.
They are considered the gold standard in detecting infection, even in earlier stages of the infection when the patient might not have developed any symptoms.
But thanks to the new Omicron variant and holiday-related domestic and international travel, PCR COVID-19 testing sites are being overrun.
In November, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved the use of rapid antigen tests as well as 15 test kits people in Australia can use at home or at workplaces to detect the virus without the help of a doctor or a medical practitioner.
Where can I buy them and for how much?
Home-use test kits can be purchased from retailers such as supermarkets and pharmacies as well as from online stores.
The cost of these kits varies based on the size of the pack and how many tests it can facilitate but, broadly speaking, it could cost anything between $10 and $20 to conduct one rapid antigen test at home.
Australian retailers, including online stores, are only allowed to sell the 15 rapid antigen test kits that have been approved by the TGA.
Which rapid antigen test kit should I buy?
The table below gives a quick snapshot of the 15 kits approved by the TGA and some key information about them.
For more information on each of these kits, including the name of their manufacturer and approval date, visit the TGA’s .
How do you test yourself?
Depending on the kit you choose, there are three ways you can test yourself.
You could opt for a kit that uses nasal swabs. But if you find them invasive, you can opt for kits that use the “oral fluid” method or the “saliva” method. Both methods involve coughing a few times and collecting saliva, but in the “saliva” method spitting is not required.
It is important to follow the steps in the instructions provided with the test you use. Not using the test properly can result in incorrect results.
All tests are for single-use only.
Once the test is complete, it’s important to dispose of the kit responsibly. The instructions on how to throw the kit are often included, but if not, place the used kit in a plastic bag, which can be sealed and placed in the household rubbish.
Are rapid antigen kits accurate?
Short answer, they’re not as accurate as COVID-19 PCR tests, particularly in the early days of the infection.
Long answer, they still offer a high level of accuracy because the TGA’s performance requirements of these kits are in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) technical specifications, which require the kits to have a minimum of 80 per cent clinical sensitivity.
The clinical sensitivity of a rapid antigen test kit is measured on the basis of its positive per cent agreement or PPA.
PPA is the proportion of individuals who produced a positive test result using a COVID-19 rapid antigen test in comparison with a positive result obtained using a more sensitive laboratory PCR test.
A higher PPA means higher clinical sensitivity.
Eighty per cent PPA is the baseline for a TGA-approved rapid antigen test kit in Australia, with the TGA labelling this level of PPA “acceptable sensitivity”.
A PPA of 90 per cent is tagged by the TGA as “high sensitivity”, while a PPA of 95 per cent is labelled “very high sensitivity”.
The TGA does not endorse one brand of rapid antigen test kit over another because all of them fulfil the WHO’s requirements.
But based on the table above, you can opt for, say, a “saliva” kit with “very high clinical sensitivity” as opposed to “acceptable” or “high”.
What if I’m positive?
If your rapid antigen test is positive, you must go for a PCR test immediately. You must self isolate between your rapid antigen test and before you receive the result of your PCR test. If your PCR test is positive, follow the government guidelines.
What if I’m negative?
If you get a negative rapid antigen test result, it is less likely that you have COVID-19, but you still need to follow all public health advice on limiting the spread of COVID-19.
If you feel unwell or have symptoms you should get a PCR test at a testing site as soon as possible to confirm you do not have COVID-19.