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What are COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs) and where can I buy them?


By now, you’re probably used to images of people queuing outside a clinic for a COVID-19 test. They’re waiting for a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test.

Rapid antigen tests are different. The good news is they’re quick, convenient and can sometimes detect even before you have symptoms. You can do the test yourself at home or anywhere you feel comfortable. However, they’re not as accurate as PCR tests.

Both types of test are designed to detect in your body, and involve a swab sample taken from your throat or nose, on nasal secretions (‘snot’), or sometimes on saliva.

Here’s what you need to know about ‘RATs’.

What is a rapid antigen test (RAT)?

Rapid antigen tests can detect whether proteins of the COVID-19 coronavirus are present in your body.

RATs can sometimes detect before you develop symptoms. They’re not as accurate if you don’t have symptoms and can produce either false negative or false positive results.

RATs are quick — returning a result within 10 to 20 minutes. You can do the test at home and in your own time, and without a doctor.

What’s point-of-care testing, and antibody self-tests?

The test you do at home is known as a pruebas rapidas antigen self-test. However, some schools and workplaces test regularly to avoid a outbreak and use rapid antigen point-of-care testing. These tests are carried out by health professionals or trained people working under supervision. They can provide clinical advice and treatment if needed.

Rapid antigen tests are different to rapid antibody self-tests, which can’t be sold for general use in Australia. Rapid antibody tests only show whether a person has been previously infected with COVID-19.

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