Flu, COVID-19 or RSV
How to navigate the new world of at-home testing
Before COVID-19, figuring out whether a sore throat, fever and runny nose were caused by a cold, flu or strep wasn't a top priority. You either powered through, knowing you'd be miserable for a few days but would probably feel better soon or you visited the doctor's office, urgent care or emergency room where you might get a test to figure out which virus or bacteria was behind your misery, and maybe a prescription to treat it. But even doctors often don't order tests, preferring instead to make diagnoses based on symptoms.
During the pandemic, however, it became more critical to know who was infected with SARS-CoV-2 so those people could isolate and not spread the virus. At-home test kits became household products, and most people are by now adept at squeezing out a few drops of solution onto a card, sticking a swab up their nose, swirling the swab in the testing liquid and waiting for a result.
A number of companies, offer at-home test kits for COVID-19 that people can buy without a prescription. Most of these are rapid antigen tests, which pick up antigens or substances that the SARS-CoV-2 virus makes. While they are relatively accurate, because it takes some time for levels of these antigens to build up after an infection, these tests are less reliable in the day or so immediately after exposure to the virus. That’s why doctors recommend repeating the test a couple of days apart.
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