You might recognize rapid antigen tests, sometimes called RATs for short, as any of a number of small, disposable devices typically administered at home or at any point of service related to COVID-19 testing.
While RT-PCR tests are often preferred because of their accuracy, there are some practical considerations that make them less than ideal for testing large numbers of people at once:
- RT-PCR tests take a lot of time
- They’re also relatively expensive
- RT-PCR tests may sometimes yield non-specific results
- Technical hiccups in the lab may influence the veracity of your results, as may any unusual mutations of the target epitopes found in your sample
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve relied on rapid tests as an alternative route where traditional COVID-19 testing falls short. They’re often able to deliver instant results in less than an hour if taken no earlier than 24 hours after exposure.
How do rapid COVID tests work?
RATs stay light on their feet by taking advantage of a rapid mechanism of action. They’re lateral flow immunoassays, used to detect the presence of a target analyte. What does this mean, exactly?
The test’s dipstick received a saliva sample, usually through a test well. Within the hull of the device, your saliva specimen is drawn through the absorptive pad of the dipstick, making its way through a couple of different modifiers and test lines.
The sample’s first stop? Something called a conjugate pad, where your fluid sample rehydrates a field of gold-conjugated antibodies specific to the antigen the test was designed to detect. The target analyte, if present, then binds readily with the antibodies that match its biochemical “shape,” an external amalgamation of binding organs and receptors.
These particles continue to flow through the pad, eventually meeting one or more test lines. The target antigen-bound reagents interact with these test lines, yielding an instant, visible result. Failure to bind at these junctures indicates an antigen-negative specimen.
Lateral flow tests can be used with any bodily fluid—blood, urine, and even a new mother’s milk. They’re easy to implement and require no training, making them perfect for at-home inquiries and those in need of testing on a tight turnaround.
Rapid antigen COVID-19 tests? We’ve got you covered
Rapid antigen tests are nothing new—we’ve been testing for strep with instant-read tests for decades, to name one other common example. They’re fast, painless, and and incredibly convenient.
You can get the ball rolling for yourself today by booking a rapid COVID test with your local Covid Clinic testing location.