The rapid COVID antigen test provides a result in under 20 minutes and was found to be easy to use. The research confirmed these tests were highly specific for the virus that causes COVID-19 and most sensitive in the first week after symptom onset.
The study trialled the rapid tests at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Monash Health and Austin hospital. The trial enrolled 2418 participants, between October – November 2020, following Melbourne’s second wave.
Dr Stephen Muhi, RMH Infectious Diseases physician and lead author of the study said the trial was an opportunity to compare the gold standard test against the rapid test.
“The idea was not just to look at the validation of the test – not just comparing the accuracy against the current PCR test but more importantly to test feasibility and challenges to implementation, giving us a good impression of how this test could be used in practice,” Dr Muhi said.
Participants were enrolled when they attended the hospitals for a COVID-19 test, undertaking both swabs for the PCR lab test and also the rapid test.
As the tests were gathered in the aftermath of the second wave, it was during a period of particularly low COVID-19 transmission in the community.
“If we know we have no transmission in the community, it means if you do get a positive result, the chance of that result being a false positive is much higher, leading to the recommendation that any positive test should be followed up with the gold standard test in this setting,” Dr Muhi said.
One major advantage of the rapid test is that it can get results within 20-minutes and it’s significantly less labour intensive than the lab tests. This quick result can benefit the public health response to a possible positive case.
“We know that COVID-19 can spread rapidly, as we saw in the second wave in Melbourne, the advantage of the rapid test is we can have a result within minutes which can help triage patients who will need to undertake further testing. It may also buy more time to start implementing measures such as quarantining and contact tracing,” Dr Muhi said.
This work was funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.