They are cheaper and even faster, but how reliable are rapid antigenic tests in detecting SARS-CoV-2 infection? They are certainly a valid option for testing a large audience of people and are very effective in case of positivity with symptoms already developed, but, according to recent research, they may not be as good in identifying asymptomatic positives. The study was conducted by the University of Birmingham and was published on the Cochrane Collaboration website. Even among the rapid tests, however, there would be differences in accuracy between brands. Antigenic swabs are performed by taking samples from the nose or throat: they identify the virus proteins and give a response within 15 to 30 minutes. The molecular ones, on the other hand, identify the genetic material of the virus and the result is obtained after a time interval that can reach up to 48 hours. Scientists analyzed 64 different studies, mainly conducted in Europe and the United States. Here are the conclusions: antigen tests would be the best alternative in identifying the presence of the virus in people with symptoms. In these cases, Covid was detected on average in 72 percent of exams. In asymptomatic people, on the other hand, the margin of error was greater: the virus was detected on average in 58 percent of cases.
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Since last January, however, in Italy, the latest generation rapid tests have in fact been equated with molecular tests, entering to all effects in the count of positive and cured cases. The Ministry of Health has in fact recognized the validity of the latest generation of rapid antigenic swabs in the detection of Covid-19 infections. A circular has established the obligation of traceability of all tests in regional information systems, given that they seem to show results that are comparable to molecular ones, especially if used within the first week of infection, and are a valid alternative. In the circular, however, the ministry specified that in the case of asymptomatic or mild symptoms, molecules remain the most efficient tool for confirming Covid-19.
There is also another type of rapid test that could soon be used in Italy: the salivary one, which is still being tested. They are done on a saliva sample. A first trial was carried out at the Lazzaro Spallanzani Hospital in Rome, but the results were disappointing: this type of test was not effective enough. There is also another option: The possibility of using molecular saliva tests, therefore not rapid, is being studied. An experiment of this type has already begun in Trentino: citizens who carry out the molecular swab are also offered to perform the salivary test in parallel to compare the results.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Virolens has recently been approved, a very fast salivary test, capable of providing results in just 20 seconds.. The hope is to be able to use it for quick screening in crowded places, such as airports, football stadiums, offices. Virolens, developed by the British start-up iAbra, was approved by the country’s medical regulator after being tested at Heathrow Airport. The test consists of taking a salivary swab from the inside of the cheeks. The swabs are placed in a cartridge which is then inserted into a device the size of a coffee machine, which analyzes the sample for Covid. Inside the machine is a digital camera attached to a microscope that examines the material and passes it through a computer programmed to detect the virus. Each screening device is capable of performing hundreds of tests per day. Histate, the company that distributes the test, says it’s one of the most accurate quick kits on the market – 98 percent effective.
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