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Mid-South infectious disease expert talks accuracy of at-home COVID-19 tests

Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 10:12 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Protecting you and your loved ones from COVID-19 over the Thanksgiving holiday is top of mind for families, after two years apart because of coronavirus.

Action News 5 is taking action for you, checking out at-home COVID-19 tests to see how they work and what a leading local infectious disease expert has to say about the rapid results these tests provide.

You may have noticed these tests by the register at your local drugstore. The BinaxNOW home COVID-19 test is the most widely available in the U.S. right now. One box costs $25. There are two test kits in each box. It takes less than two minutes to do the actual test, and then 15 minutes to wait for the results.

Baptist Hospital’s infectious disease expert, Dr. Steve Threlkeld, helped break down the pros and cons of the self-test.

“In terms of drugstore tests, they’re good if they’re positive, but they will miss a lot,” he said. They’re not terribly sensitive. But if they say positive, they’re really positive. They’re quite specific.”

The BinaxNOW antigen home test uses three things: a test card, bottle dropper, and a sterile nasal swab. You simply lay the card out flat and put six drops of reagent from the dropper into the top hole. Next, take the swab, insert it 1/2 an inch to 3/4 of an inch up your nose and move it in a circle five times around each nostril for 15 seconds on each side. Insert the swab tip into the bottom hole on the test card until it’s visible through the top hole and turn the swab three times. Then, you peel the adhesive strip off and close the test card. Your results are ready in 15 minutes.

A negative test will have a single pink line in the window on the card. If you’re positive, two pink lines appear.

Threlkeld said you should take the results of your drugstore test seriously.

“A lot of people make that mistake,” he told Action News 5. “They say I have a positive drug store test but I’m going to wait until I have a more expensive test before I avoid people. That’s a bad idea because if the at-home test says positive, it’s probably true.”

Test results can help you decide whether to stay home or join loved ones to celebrate the holidays. And Threlkeld says it can be even more crucial to test after a family gathering.

“In general, testing afterward is way more important if you encounter someone who turns out to be symptomatic within a couple days after that exposure,” Threlkeld said. “That’s the biggest reason, particularly for someone who’s been vaccinated.”

The BinaxNOW test by Abbott received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization. It’s recommended you test twice within three days. The FDA says the BinaxNow test accurately gave a positive result 84.6 percent of the time.

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