Rapid Antigen Tests Are Gaining Widespread Acceptance in Europe
While PCR tests remain the ”gold standard” for Covid-19 diagnosis, rapid antigen tests are rapidly entering the European market, allowing faster and cheaper ways to detect infection.
What is an antigen test?
Rapid antigen-tests are carried out via nasal, oropharyngeal and saliva swabs. They are less expensive than molecular tests (PCR) and provide results fairly quickly, typically in 10 to 60 minutes. Unlike molecular tests, antigen tests reveal the presence of the virus not through its nucleic acid (RNA) but through its proteins (antigen). Reliability is comparable to molecular testing and in some contexts positive results may need to be confirmed by a molecular test.
EU recommends use of rapid antigen tests
PCR testing remains the most reliable methodology for Covid-19 detection. However, due to their increased use, resulting in shortages, and to their relatively high cost and long time required to produce a test result, the European Commission has recommended the complementary use of rapid antigen tests in specific settings. In January, the European Council recommended that antigen tests should:
· carry CE marking;
· meet the minimum performance requirements of ≥ 90% sensitivity and ≥ 97% specificity;
· have been validated by at least one member state as being appropriate for their use in the context of Covid-19.
In addition, the Council insisted on a selection of rapid antigen tests to be mutually recognised by member states and a common standardised set of data for test result certificates.
Right now, several European countries practise rapid antigen testing, including France, the UK, Portugal, Germany, and Austria. Rules regarding the use of antigen tests vary, although not widely. In general, people can choose between antigen tests conducted by a trained professional and self-testing. A negative antigen test conducted by a trained professional is valid for a day or two, during which people can make use of a limited number of services that have been allowed to reopen. In contrast, a positive result should be reported to the authorities and confirmed by a PCR test.
Self-tests, on the other hand, are mainly used by people who may want to ensure that they are not infected before visiting relatives or friends. A negative self-test does not allow them to visit facilities such as salons, barber shops or fitness studios. A positive self-test, on the other hand, does not obligate people to inform the authorities. Still, in Germany, for instance, the government advises people to immediately request a PCR test from their doctor.
Health institutions and governments usually encourage regular self-testing, especially for employees who do not work from home or for people who are more likely to be exposed to Covid-19. Carrying out self-tests weekly helps control outbreaks and reduces the risk of spreading the virus unknowingly.
Differences in antigen test regulations may also exist between federal states within a country. It’s also important to note that in the current dynamic environment rules are subject to change, so it’s vital to stay informed about the most recent developments.