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Antigen tests are being used 'widely but not properly', says chief medical officer

Dr Tony Holohan cautioned that people with Covid-19 symptoms should receive a PCR test instead of relying on antigen testing.

Image: Leah Farrell

ANTIGEN TESTS ARE being used widely but often not in line with public health guidelines, the chief medical officer has said.

The government is expected to start subsidising antigen tests for the public in the near future and to provide them for free in school outbreaks and for close contacts.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan warned this morning that as more people use antigen tests for Covid-19, they must understand the circumstances in which the tests are appropriate to use.

He cautioned that people with Covid-19 symptoms should not rely on an antigen test and should receive a PCR test instead.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Dr Holohan said that the “current situation is that antigen tests are widely available, they’re being widely used, but they’re not being properly used”.

“If you have symptoms, a PCR test is the right test. An antigen test is not the test for you,” Dr Holohan said.

If you’re asymptomatic and you take an antigen test before you undertake some high-risk activity, you’re thinking of going to a wedding or something like that, whatever it might be, a positive result is what you should rely on.

“If a result comes back positive, you stay away. If the result is negative, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have the disease.”

The government announced last week that it would provide antigen tests for free for close contacts and in school outbreaks, but not for the wider public.

Outside of those specific circumstances, antigen tests will be made available at a subsidised cost.

Dr Holohan said that the government isn’t making a mistake in subsiding the tests but that “what we need to ensure now is that the public understands as much as possible how best to use this and every one of us highlights the important message that if you have symptoms, the PCR test is the right test for you, not the antigen test, and you self-isolate, stay at home, until your PCR test is done”.

“If you’re one of those people in a high-risk group where your social activities involve you engaging in multiple high-risk activities, which of course is what we’re not recommending people to do at this point in time, and you use an antigen test, you can really only rely on the result if the result is positive,” he said.

“The literature that goes out with these tests makes that clear. We need the public to fully understand that.”

Weekly data compiled by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) indicates that a significant proportion of adults who take antigen tests are using them when they have Covid-19 symptoms.

“Our most recent data from Wednesday of last week shows that in the previous week, about one in five adults reported that they used an antigen test,” the chief medical officer said.

“The majority of those said that they used them when they had symptoms – that is not the public health advice.

“And then of those who used them when they had symptoms, only about a third of them went on to take a PCR test and restrict their movements – and again, that’s not the public health advice.”

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Instead, people with Covid-19 symptoms should always book a PCR test, the CMO said.

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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