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8/4/21 blog post

are at-home COVID tests accurate?

Just when we thought we could see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel, delta decided to rear its ugly head. What is delta you ask? Delta is a variant of COVID-19 that seems to spread easier and quicker than other variants, which may lead to more cases of the virus. Studies also suggest its effects may be more severe than other variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

With COVID back on the rise, testing will very important to help reduce the spread of the virus. You may have heard your friend or relative talk about doing an at-home test and be wondering is that really accurate? We sat down with J. Michael Klatte, MD, chief, division of infectious disease at Dayton Children’s, to gain a better understanding of at-home COVID testing.

when should someone consider using an at-home COVID test?

Testing is very important when it comes to reducing the spread of COVID, so if you suspect that you have COVID or know of an exposure and have symptoms you can consider doing an at-home COVID test. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “self-tests can be used by anyone who is symptomatic regardless of their vaccination status. Unvaccinated persons with no COVID-19 symptoms can also use self-tests, especially if they were exposed to someone with COVID-19.”

are at-home COVID tests accurate?

The accuracy of an at-home test would depend on a couple of different things:

  1. Whether or not a person has symptoms.

  2. How long a person has been symptomatic, if symptoms are present.

On average, antigen tests (including those available for at-home use and those available through a healthcare provider) are not as accurate as PCR/molecular diagnostic tests at detecting COVID-19 when a person has had symptoms for five days or more. Alternatively, a PCR test may not be as accurate at detecting infection in people who have had symptoms for less than two days.  

if you get a positive at-home COVID test what are the next steps a person should take?

As before, if you get a positive test you should quarantine yourself at home and contact your primary care provider for additional instructions.

is there any risk of doing an at-home COVID test?

There is the risk of a false-negative test result - that is, a negative result in a person who actually has COVID-19 infection. False-negative results can occur when a specimen isn't collected properly according to the testing instructions, or when a specimen is collected too early or too far into the course of the illness. 

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J. Michael Klatte, MD

division chief infectious disease
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