Regular testing for Covid-19 is a vital part of the effort the reduce transmission. Lab-analysed PCR tests have been around since the early stages of the pandemic but more recently, rapid tests have also been made available. What exactly is a rapid test, how does it work and how can you get hold of them? Here are 7 key things to know.
Rapid tests are also called lateral flow tests
As well as the rapid test, you may have also heard of lateral flow tests. This is just another name for the rapid test and describes the type of diagnostic device used, which confirms the presence or absence of a target substance in a liquid sample without the need for specialised equipment.
- They’re based on the same technology as pregnancy tests
Another type of lateral flow test is the home pregnancy test, except this looks for certain hormones rather than coronavirus proteins. Both tests contain a control line to confirm the test is working properly, along with one or more target or test lines that indicate the result.
- They can give results in as little as 15 minutes
One of the key benefits of rapid tests is that they can provide results in as little as 15 minutes. These easy to interpret devices will show one line at the top if the result is negative, two lines if it is positive or one line at the bottom if the test is invalid. After collecting their sample via a swab, mixing this with an extraction fluid and placing a drop of this mixture in the well on the device, the user simply has to wait 15-30 minutes before they can read the device and get their result.
- They can identify Covid-19 in asymptomatic carriers
Rapid tests are an effective way to identify cases of Covid-19 in those who show no symptoms. As well as continuing to regularly wash hands, wear face coverings and maintain social distancing when advised to do so, regularly taking a lateral flow test plays a big part in reducing the spread of coronavirus, as it allows those who test positive to immediately self-isolate when they otherwise may have unknowingly spread the virus to others. 1 in 3 people who have Covid-19 are asymptomatic, so this can make a big difference.
- Residents in England can get free rapid tests twice a week
If you live in England and have no symptoms of Covid-19, you are eligible to take a rapid test twice a week. You can access these at work or school, visit a testing site or order a kit online for home delivery.
- They have a specificity of 99.9%
Analysis of lateral flow tests shows that they have a specificity of 99.9%, which means they have extremely low false positive rates. With fewer than one false positive in every 1,000 tests carried out, rapid tests are an accurate diagnostic device for regular use within the community.
- They play an important role in reducing the transmission of Covid-19
If everyone who was asymptomatic took regular rapid tests, this could have a significant impact on the rate of transmission, thereby keeping your loved ones safer. Even if you’re not too worried about the impact that coronavirus could have on you if you were to catch it, it’s beneficial to keep taking tests so that you know when it may be required for you to self-isolate and can do your part to protect others. With lateral flow tests being so quick and simple to use, it’s easy to make regular testing part of your weekly routine.