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Are rapid antigen tests reliable? How do they work?

As hundreds wait in lengthy queues for PCR tests, many turn to the 15-minute rapid antigen tests offered over the counter. PCR tests are nonetheless considered "the gold standard" in COVID-19 detection. But rapid tests assist the government in getting faster counts, slowing down the virus` spread, and lightening the burden on PCR labs.

The US Food and Drug Administration has recently issued an Emergency Authorization (EUA) for the Flowflex COVID 19 Home Test from ACON Laboratories. This is an over-the-counter (OTC) COVID19 antigen test and is added to the list of tests that can be done at home. The action underscores the ongoing commitment to increase the availability of reasonably accurate and reliable OTC tests to meet public health needs, and improve consumer accessibility. But what's the distinction between PCR and OTC tests?

What are rapid antigen tests, and in what way are they different from other tests?

Rapid antigen tests aren't the finger-prick antibody tests you may have heard of during the early months of the pandemic – the ones that check our blood for the antibodies made by our immune system after it encounters the virus. These early blood tests aren't accurate at detecting early infections, when humans are the most infectious. Rapid antigen tests on the other hand, check for the presence of the virus itself. Both PCR and antigen tests focus on areas where we shed viral particles the most – the nostrils and mouth.   .

PCR test results need to be sent to the lab for detecting the coronavirus's genetic code. PCR stands for a polymerase chain reaction, the lab approach that spins up DNA. The tiniest fragments of the virus may be determined in this manner, even though it's already dead. That makes PCR tests nearly one hundred percent correct. However, the additional steps of sending the test to a lab makes it more complex, takes much longer, and costs more than antigen tests. PCR tests cost around $100 compared to around $5 to $30 for an antigen test.

Antigen test use a touch chemistry set to check for a selected protein of the virus, referred to as an antigen. You use a nasal swab and check to see if it reacts to a solution. Swabs are placed onto paper and mixed with a dropper of solution. Results take approximately 15 minutes to emerge. Some antigen tests use saliva instead of a nasal swab.

The rapid home testing service will be significantly expanded by ACON Laboratories, which is expected to double its capacity in the coming weeks in the US. It is estimated that manufacturers will create more than 100 million tests a month by the end of the year, and 200 million by February 2022.

For people with symptoms of COVID-19, a PCR check continues to be recommended, and a negative PCR test result is frequently required in workplaces, airports, and border checkpoints. If you get a positive result from an antigen test, you want to have a PCR check to confirm the antigen test result, and to isolate while waiting for the PCR result.

How accurate are rapid antigen tests?

Rapid antigen tests have been improving in accuracy but there is still a small chance of false negative or false positive. Domestic tests have to attain a sensitivity threshold of eighty percent in order to be registered. Those with sensitivity threshold of ninety and ninety-five percent are classified as excessive sensitivity and very excessive sensitivity, respectively.

The FDA has approved over 400 COVID 19 tests and testing devices as of March 2020. It also includes rapid OTC home tests. Due to the implications of the COVID19 home diagnostic test for public health, the FDA considers it a top priority.

Some rapid antigen tests

  1. Flowflex rapid antigen test

Flowflex is a rapid test for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antigens in anterior nasal specimens for people inside 7 days of symptom onset, or people without symptoms for COVID-19 infection. It is one of the best rapid antigen tests available. The Flowflex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test effectively-recognizes 93% of positive specimens and 100% of negative specimens.


  • Anterior nasal swab specimens
  • Results in 15 minutes
  • One-year shelf life
  • Store between 36° to 86° F/ 2.2° to 30°C
  • For testing for 14 years and older
  1. iHealth rapid antigen test

The iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test is the only test to check for SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein antigen. It takes four steps and 15 minutes to finish the test. The test is likewise non-invasive. The FDA has issued an Emergency Use Authorization. (EUA) for this rapid antigen test.


  • FDA Authorized 15 mins self-check
  • Easy to apply with no discomfort
  • Detect present-day and new COVID variants


Various rapid antigen tests in the market work very well and are reliable. With proper testing and awareness, we can all together to fight this pandemic. We wish you health and prosperity.


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