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COVID-19 testing at home: Understanding rapid antigen testing

You can buy them at your local Ramsay Pharmacy and they can quickly give you a good indication as to whether or not you have coronavirus – without waiting 24-48 hours for the results of a swab test at your local COVID testing site. While rapid antigen tests have been popular overseas for some time, they’re pretty new here in Australia. So what exactly is rapid antigen testing, and how does it work?


What is a rapid antigen test?

Put simply, a rapid antigen test is a fast way of telling whether you might have coronavirus (COVID-19). Put scientifically, it is a lateral flow immunoassay that directly detects SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid proteins common across all currently known virus variants.

It’s either a nasal or saliva test that you can do yourself at home, and it will show a positive or negative result within a few minutes - similar to a home pregnancy test. It tests for a specific protein found across all virus variants, including delta and lambda strains, and results are available within 15-30 minutes.


How accurate is rapid antigen testing?

Rapid antigen tests are generally less accurate than the RT-PCR tests that are used in COVID-19 testing centres.  This means that there is a greater chance that an infected person may be given an incorrect negative result with a rapid antigen test – and be infectious in the community.  However, with the majority of people now fully vaccinated, this is less of a problem than before, and why rapid antigen tests are only now able to be used.

If you use a rapid antigen test, receive a negative result and continue to experience symptoms, you may need a follow up RT-PCR test at a COVID-19 testing centre to confirm.

Rapid antigen tests are most accurate in the first 7 days after symptoms appearing, when virus levels are highest.  They are less accurate in people who do not have symptoms.


What is rapid antigen testing used for?

Rapid antigen tests are best-suited to situations where the stakes are low – for example if you have started to show symptoms, but don’t have access to an RT-PCR pathology lab test right away.

If you work in an industry where you are exposed to a lot of people, such as retail, hospitality or taxi/ride share work, you may find them helpful for peace of mind as the results are quick and easy.

Some rapid antigen tests, such as those stocked at your local Ramsay and Malouf Pharmacies location, are designed to be used self-test at home or work, without needing professional supervision.


What is the process for rapid antigen testing?

  1. Do not eat, drink smoke, brush your teeth or chew gum 30 minutes before the test
  2. Wash your hands and remove test from packaging
  3. Pull swab out of base and uncap
  4. Cough deeply 4 times
  5. Place swab on or under your tongue and wait for 2 minutes
  6. Remove swab from mouth and push tip into base until it clicks
  7. Wait 15 minutes and read results – similar to a home pregnancy test

Click here for a step by step instruction video on how to take the test. 


Ramsay and Malouf Pharmacies now stock the easy-to-use saliva swab (swab on/under the tongue) kit in most locations. Visit our store finder to locate your nearest store.



Negative test results do not exclude infection with COVID-19 – social distancing, good hygiene practice and face masks (where directed) must be maintained.

If your result is positive, you must immediately isolate, contact the authorities in your state or territory, and arrange to have a laboratory RT-PCR test. Negative results may not mean that a person is not infectious and if symptoms are present you should arrange to have a laboratory RT-PCR test.

For self-testing use. Do not use after expiration date.

Please read product labels before consuming. For therapeutic goods, always read the label and follow the directions for use on pack. If you require specific information to assist with your purchasing decision, we recommend that you contact your pharmacist or GP.