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NPHET advises twice weekly antigen tests for those going to bars and other 'high risk' activities

The HSE has recently begun sending antigen tests to people who are listed as close contacts.

Source: HSE Ireland/YouTube

HEALTH OFFICIALS ARE advising that people attending bars, restaurants and other indoor environments with multiple households should consider using antigen tests a number of times a week. 

The recommendation is contained in the latest letter from CMO Dr Tony Holohan to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and follows consideration by the Expert Advisory Group on Rapid Testing. 

Antigen tests, also known as lateral flow tests, are rapid tests for the presence of specific proteins, known as antigens. They can be taken without the need for specialised equipment and can therefore be self-administered. 

The HSE has recently begun sending antigen tests to people who are listed as close contacts of a lab-confirmed case of Covid-19 but the use of the tests is now being encouraged more widely. 

Antigen tests programmes have also been used in settings such as hospitals, creches, third-level institutions and in outbreak locations.  

In Holohan’s letter to Donnelly following a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) yesterday, he notes the recommendation from the Expert Group that antigen testing is also recommended for  “individuals who regularly engage in higher risk activities”. 

Examples of such activities include; attendance at bars, restaurants, nightclubs, the cinema, multi-household home visits, participating in indoor contact sports, and car sharing with people from other households.

People to whom these activities apply should “consider self-testing on a serial basis, at a minimum of twice weekly spaced by three days”.

The advice adds that, for activities that are ongoing over a period of time, people should consider using a single self-test prior to engaging in these higher risk activities. 

NPHET has previously expressed concern that the widespread use of antigen tests would lead to symptomatic individuals using a not-detected result as a pretext to meeting with other individuals.

This concern is reflected in the lett with Holohan saying that “enhanced communication” is required to emphasise that symptomatic individuals do use antigen tests as a “green light”. 

People who have symptoms of Covid-19 are advised by the HSE to avail of a PCR test. 

“Additionally, clear guidance on how to use antigen tests is required,” Holohan says in his letter to Donnelly.

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“The NPHET further noted the importance of ensuring that antigen tests are used as an additional layer of mitigation against infection and transmission and that they should not replace the other public health protective measures advised.” 

The increased role for antigen testing comes as the HSE said that its PCR test centres recorded their busiest day to date this week. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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