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The home rapid antigen test is our secret weapon

How over-the-counter home rapid tests look for the most infectious people

This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, people are being vaccinated and society is opening back up. But the risks aren’t gone. Variant outbreaks continue to infect people all over the world, and even vaccinated people — particularly those who are older and immunocompromised — remain susceptible to the disease.

Of course, lockdowns and shutdowns damage the social and economic fabric of our world and should be considered emergency measures. But this means there need to be effective public health tools in place that can ensure we don’t have to shut things down for too long and can give society the chance to open in a safe and sustained way.

One approach is a tool that helps us understand our own health. Over-the-counter home antigen tests cut down medical barriers that prevent people from knowing what’s happening inside their bodies. With access to home testing people are empowered to take control of their own health, which is why QuickVue, an over-the-counter rapid antigen test, identifies contagious coronavirus infections so we can immediately know whether we’re infectious.

How It Works

Rapid antigen tests identify SARS-CoV-2 by looking for a protein from the virus called the nucleocapsid protein. After a simple swab of the nose, the sample is mixed with a liquid that is then absorbed into a paper strip with little lines that contain molecules to capture the virus. As the liquid flows across the paper and the molecules capture any virus that’s there, a color forms a line we are able to see without any special instruments or microscopes. Either one or two lines will form, and just like a pregnancy test, one line will indicate negative and two lines will mean positive.

These tests yield results in only about 10-15 minutes. They are reliable too, showing a positive result during the five to six-day window when a person is actually capable of transmitting the virus to others. And that’s different from other kinds of tests, like the PCR.

Infection On A Spectrum

The commonly used diagnostic test is PCR, which stands for polymerase chain reaction and looks for the actual genetic material of the virus, rather than for the most abundant protein, like the rapid antigen method. PCR tests often require trips to medical offices, expensive laboratory equipment, and typically take 24-hours to complete. And this method of testing is so sensitive that a person can test positive on a PCR machine for up to four or five weeks after they’ve stopped being infectious. The PCR machines can detect just a tiny amount of virus material, which is then translated as positive, even though the viral load present is not enough to transmit to someone else. This is a distinction from the rapid antigen test method.

Antigen tests catch high viral loads, which means that they pinpoint the most transmissible cases. This is significant because 90 percent of viral particles in a population are often held by just 2 percent of the people. This means that if we can identify this small percentage of the most contagious people, and those people self-isolate, we can avoid large-scale lockdowns for the vast majority.

Putting Public Health Into The Hands Of The Public

The QuickVue antigen test is an efficient way to understand your health status. Available at thousands of drugstores across the country, the tests are now accessible to the masses. In the face of a public health emergency, it’s a proactive way for the public to participate in public health.

We can’t control who is vaccinated or how the virus might mutate or where an outbreak might erupt, but we can be empowered to know what is happening in our own bodies. And the rapid antigen test tells us not just what’s happening in our bodies but a crucial piece of information about the status of our bodies amidst the chaos of a public health crisis.