COVID-19 home-testing kits: All you need to know about them and why a spike in sales is worrying health officials

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Health officials have cautioned that several positive cases, being detected on the rapid self-testing kits, are going unreported as people are not informing the agencies

As India witnesses a rapid surge in COVID-19 numbers, there’s also been a rise in at-home or self-testing kits.

A recent Times of India report on Sunday had shown that Mylab Discovery Solutions that manufactures ‘CoviSelf’, a self-testing kit, had sold five lakh kits between 1 and 7 January in Mumbai.

Similarly, an ANI news report quoting Delhi Retail Distribution Chemist Alliance (DRDCA) president Sandeep Nangia said that around 5,000-10,000 self-testing kits are being sold every day in Delhi and are in high demand.

We take a look at what these self-testing kits are, what are the benefits in using them and why the high increase in use of these tests is worrying health officials.

Self-testing kits

The Indian Council of Medical Research has approved seven at-home COVID test kits so far. Barring one, all these tests are nasal swab-based tests.

These are Mylab Discovery’s Coviself (Pathocatch) COVID-19 OTC Antigen LF device, Abbott Rapid’s Panbio COVID-19 Antigen rapid test device, Meril Diagnostics’ CoviFind COVID-19 Rapid Antigen self-test, Angstrom Biotech’s Angtech COVID-19 home test kit, Healgen Scientific Limited’s CliniTest COVID-19 Antigen self-test, SD Biosensor Healthcare’s ULTRA Covi-Catch SARS-CoV-2 home test and Nulife Care’s AbCheck Rapid Antigen self-test.

The cost of these kits ranges from Rs 250 to Rs 350.

To use any COVID-19 home testing kits, it is important to find a clean place and sanitise your hands before conducting the test. It is important to download the app mentioned in the testing kit, fill in the credentials and then proceed with the test.

Benefits of using self-testing kits

Health experts say that rapid at-home tests are a great tool to detect the SARs-COV-2 virus in a short period of time. It is not only quick in delivering results, but up until now, it has proved efficient too.

The reason why RT-PCR tests take so much time in delivering results is because it undergoes a series of specialised, often expensive diagnostic processes to achieve results.

On the other hand, rapid home tests look for the protein or molecules that are found on the virus’s surface, which is why the results can be easily verified at a fast pace.

Accuracy of self-testing kits

The accuracy of self-testing kits lags behind those of the RT-PCR testing. The chances of getting a false positive or negative is much higher with rapid tests than in a PCR test.

The ICMR is very clear in its guidelines. It states that individuals who test positive using the home testing kit may be considered as true positives, and no-repeat testing is required.

However, all symptomatic individuals who test negative must get tested by RT-PCR, as the home kits are likely to miss a few positive cases.

Worry among health officials

Officials in Maharashtra have cautioned that the positive cases are going unreported as those testing positive are not informing the agencies. The COVID-19 national task force too has flagged the issue.

This could be attributed to the high use of home testing kits.

As per protocol, each of the easy-to-use testing kits has a unique QR code to ensure traceability and genuineness.

A user is asked to log into the apps of the respective brand, such as Mylab CoviSelf, CoviFind, through their mobile numbers. Then they have to scan the unique QR code. After running the test, they have to take a photo of the test on the card through the app to confirm the result.

However, it is not mandatory for the users to upload their results and herein lies the problem.

Many people who are using the self-testing kits are receiving positive results, but not uploading the result, as they wish to avoid quarantine.

This will lead to people flouting COVID-19 protocols and, in turn, spread the virus to more people.

“There is no data entry from home testing kits. It is a screening test, not a confirmatory test. We don’t know about those who are using self-testing kits. If those testing positive don’t follow isolation rules, they will end up infecting their close contacts,” Suresh Kakani, additional commissioner, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), was quoted as telling the Indian Express.

The non-reporting of positive cases from self-testing kits will also affect quarantine surveillance in the state. For instance, Mumbai’s civic body has issued guidelines that the whole building or a wing will be sealed if over 20 percent of the occupied flats have COVID-19 patients. However, if people don’t report their infections, the quarantine programme goes for a toss, putting a larger number of people at risk.

With inputs from agencies

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