Is 2022 the end of the COVID-19 global health emergency? With borders reopening and large events resuming, all is hopeful for Australia to transition to some level of COVID-normal. In mid-late 2021, the introduction of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) across Australia gave the power of testing to the consumer and they becoming a popular alternative to PCR testing, especially when screening for employees in the workplace.
What is RAT testing?
Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) are portable testing kits that can detect if antigens – the n-proteins (nucleocapsid) on the outside of the COVID-19 virus – are present in your body.
Antigen testing has been around for decades and are commonly used to diagnose other respiratory illnesses like pneumonia. The global pandemic has created a huge demand to make these antigen tests portable and more accessible to the public.
RAT testing kits can be used anywhere – the home, the workplace, at airports – and quickly return results within 10-20 minutes. You can perform a RAT test in your own time without the presence of a medical professional. RAT tests can also identify asymptomatic people in very early stages of infection, preventing them from unconsciously spreading the virus.
The test is fairly simple and requires a swab from your nasal cavity or throat (as described by the test kits instructions) then the swab is mixed with a buffer solution in a tube. A series of chemical reactions occur in the test tube as the buffer seeks out any COVID antigens. Next, a few drops from the tube are dripped onto a test strip which will tell the user if they are positive or negative for COVID.
How effective are RAT tests?
Despite warnings from the media about false positives, TGA accredited testing kits have undergone rigorous testing to ensure their accuracy.
An international study compared RAT tests to PCR tests and found that the specificity – a measure of how well a test can identify true negatives – was 97%. Which means if 100 people had RAT tests and tested negative, 97 of those people would have also returned PCR tests.
In terms of sensitivity – the number of true positives – when comparing RAT tests to PCRs, the same study found 94% of positive RAT results for COVID-19 matched the positives found in their PCR tests.
The studies numbers are very good but the Westlab antigen test has an outstanding specificity of 99.25% and a high sensitivity of 98.6% making the Westlab tests very reliable at returning accurate results.
PCR tests vs RAT tests
What is the difference between RAT tests and PCR?
- They test for different things: A PCR test tests for RNA molecules of COVID-19 in your system. A RAT test looks for COVID-antigens which are markers found on the outside coating of the COVID-19 virus.
- PCR tests require more resources: The swab collector, the laboratory equipment, reagents and the staff to run the lab. Meanwhile, RAT tests only cost money for the actual kit and the time of the user.
- Time for results: The average turn-around time for PCR results is 24-48hrs. During which the person getting tested should stay home and isolate. RAT tests take about 10-15 minutes to get results.
- Location: PCR tests require a person to drive to a testing centre, which for some people could be a long way away and spend hours queuing up for their turn. Meanwhile, RATs can be performed anywhere, including your home or workplace.
Who is needs to be tested with RATs?
At the time of writing, RATs are currently being used as a screening test for people in the following industries.
- Frontline & Healthcare workers
- Aged care & disability workers
- Essential workers (Supply chain/manufacturing, public transport ect).
- School Children & Teachers
Regular screening using RATs is a massive step in being able to detect the virus early when team members are asymptomatic and in early stages of the infection to prevent further transmission into the workplace.
Why RATs are the preferred test of choice for employers.
RAT tests are a great way for employers to ensure the safety of their employees and customers without reducing productivity. Employees getting screened with RAT tests no longer need to take time off work to isolate and wait for test results.
What is a good RAT test brand?
The most important thing to check when purchasing a RAT test is to ensure it has been approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA). The TGA has a list of all approved testing kits on its website. The kits that make this list have been rigorously tested and audited to ensure customers are getting tests that are valid and accurate.
Westlab Scientific is an accredited and reputable seller for RATs tests. Westlab’s rapid lateral flow antigen test kit by MP Bio is listed on the TGAs approved list for RAT tests. The kit is fast, convenient and easy to use. Get fast results in 15 minutes. These RAT tests are a cost-effective investment in maintaining the health of your team without impacting productivity.
- RAT tests are fast and cost-effective ways to screen for and prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst your team.
- Negative test results do not exclude infection with COVID-19. Face masks, social distancing and good hygiene practice must be maintained.