SINGAPORE: As of June 16, self-administered test kits for Covid-19 will be sold in pharmacies as increased testing becomes part of the “new normal way of life” of coronavirus.
After undergoing five different types of Covid-19 swabs, including one made by a robot, I decided to try one of these DIY test kits to see what the process was like and how it compared to other types of tests.
The kit I tested was the Abbott PanBio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test. Another test that will be available is the Quidel QuickVue At-Home OTC Covid-19 test.
These two will be sold at Watsons outlets for between $ 10 and $ 13 per test kit.
Two more, the SD Biosensor Sars-CoV-2 Antigen Nasal Self-Test and the SD Biosensor Standard Q Covid-19 Ag Home Test, have been approved for use by the Health Sciences Authority.
The Abbott PanBio sample kit came in a blue rectangular box the size of a pencil case. Inside was an instruction manual, a swab, a test device, a small solution bottle, and a tube to hold the mixture. A resealable plastic bag was also provided to remove debris.
Before I started, I had to wash and dry my hands. Then I had to squeeze the liquid from the bottle into the tube, making sure it filled to a specific level.
Leaving aside the liquid tube, I switched to the swab. Taking the stick out of its closed packaging, I took a deep breath and pushed it gently into the nostril.
This was the hardest step for me as I wasn’t sure if the swab had gotten deep enough inside.
In the instructions it was said to be inserted at a depth of about 2 cm until resistance was noticed, but, being paranoid, he did not trust 100% that he felt enough resistance. Maybe he should have done it in front of a mirror.
I then turned the swab five times as instructed, making sure I felt it gently rub the inside of my nose.
This step had to be repeated on the other nostril with the same swab. At this point, I was a little more confident in my skills and felt more relaxed.
I then put the stick in the liquid tube and swirled it, before breaking the swab along a bounded line and leaving it in the tube.
I then pressed five drops from the tube into the test device. I didn’t have to worry about spilling, as there was more than enough liquid in the tube.
Almost instantly, the display face of the test device began to turn red. I felt like I was doing a science experiment at home.
Fifteen minutes later, I checked the device and saw that virtually all the redness was gone, leaving only one line on the control indicator – a negative result. A positive result would show two red lines.
With a sigh of relief, I sealed the used equipment in the bag that could be closed and threw it in the trash. The whole set can only be used once and no, I didn’t want to save it as a souvenir.
Overall, I found the test quick and easy to use. It was certainly much less uncomfortable than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests I had done before, as I didn’t have to put the swab up to my nose and, at least for me, it was completely painless. .
Although I was initially surprised by the number of steps required, the manual was very detailed, contained useful diagrams, and was easy to follow.
Dr. Ling Li Min, an infectious disease specialist at Rophi Clinic, told me that while there may be some minor variations between the four approved kits, they are all rapid antigen testing (ART) and should work from the same way.
Unlike PCR tests, which detect coronavirus genetic material, ARTs look for antigens, which are the protein shells that cover the virus, he explained.
Dr. Ling, who was previously a senior consultant at the National Center for Infectious Diseases and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said there are membranes in the test kit that contain antibodies.
When the solution seeps onto the test kit, it flows through the membranes. If antigens are present, the antibodies will bind to them and form a line on the screen.
Although ARTs are faster and less uncomfortable than PCR tests, they are less sensitive. Dr. Ling said that, in general, PCR tests can detect the virus in someone who has symptoms during the first week of illness approximately 90 to 95% of the time. ARTs can do this in 70 to 80 percent of cases.
However, Dr. Ling noted that ARTs have a specificity rate of about 100%, which means that a positive result is likely to be correct.
“If it’s positive, you have to go see a doctor quickly. The chance of a false positive is very, very low,” he said.
He warned that those who use DIY test kits should read and follow the instructions, even if they have used a different brand before, as there may be some variations and the reliability of the result depends on the people doing the test. correctly.
But while these kits may not be suitable for those who can’t follow instructions or have trouble performing the test on their own, such as the very old or the young, Dr. Ling said they have a important role to play in the overall strategy of the country. to fight Covid-19.
This is because these kits can help increase the frequency of testing done here, which can allow cases to be detected and addressed before they become clusters.
From a psychological standpoint, they can also help give peace of mind to people who want to know if they are infected, he said.
Dr. Ling added: “If we do it right and properly and if there are enough people buying in, it’s a way of not needing intense restrictions from time to time and we can get on with our lives … simply by more proof that people will be comfortable with “.