What is a rapid antigen test?

Find out about getting a rapid antigen test in Ireland, how an antigen test kit works, and how to use it.
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Image of a rapid antigen test

An antigen test is one form of test that can be used to check for COVID-19. It is less accurate than the COVID-19 PCR test used at testing centres. However, it can be used as an additional tool alongside PCR testing and current health measures.

What is an antigen test?

Antigen testing can be used to test for COVID-19. These tests do not need to be carried out in a laboratory. You can use them yourself at home.

Should I use an antigen test?

You should use an antigen test if all of the following apply to you:

  • You are a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19
  • You are fully vaccinated
  • You are not experiencing any symptoms of the virus

If you are a close contact and are not fully vaccinated, you should self-isolate and get a COVID-19 PCR test.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 you should also get a COVID-19 PCR test, whether or not you are vaccinated.

Where can I get an antigen test in Ireland?

If you are a close contact of a person that tested positive for COVID-19, you will get free antigen tests from the HSE provided you are fully vaccinated and not showing any symptoms of the virus. A contact tracer will phone you to get an address to post your free antigen tests. If you believe you are a close contact but have not been contacted by a contact tracer, you can phone the COVID-19 helpline on 1800 700 700.

Can I purchase an antigen test?

If you are not a close contact but you would still like to use an antigen test, you can purchase antigen tests in many pharmacies and shops.

How do I use an antigen test kit?

It is important to read the instruction leaflet before carrying out an antigen test. 

A COVID-19 antigen test kit should contain a sterile swab, a liquid known as a buffer, a tube to hold that liquid in, a test card and detailed instructions. 

To use an antigen test, you must first use the sterile swab to take a sample from both of your nostrils. You then place this swab into the buffer for the amount of time stated on the instruction leaflet before closing the lid on the tube. The last step is to put some of the buffer/ swab sample mixture into a well in the antigen test card and wait.

The HSE have created a video on how to carry out an antigen test at home.

Before carrying out an antigen test, it is very important to read the instructions carefully.

How many antigen tests should I use?

Antigen tests are more accurate if you do a few tests on different days. You should do three tests in total. 

You can do antigen tests at any time of the day. Do your three antigen tests in this order:

  • First test on the day you receive your test kits
  • Second test two days after your first test
  • Third test two days after your second test

How long does it take to get an antigen test result?

You will have the result of your test within 15-30 minutes, depending on the brand you’re using.

Understanding antigen test results

The steps you take next depends on the result you get from your test.

What should I do if my test result is negative?

If your result is negative, it means that the virus was not found in your sample. However, in order to ensure the result is accurate, it is important to do three tests as described above. 

If you have a negative antigen test result, report your negative antigen result online as part of the antigen programme from the HSE. It is important to continue to follow health advice even if your test is negative.

What should I do if my test result is positive?

If your antigen test result is positive, you will need to self-isolate and get a COVID-19 PCR test

What happens if my test result is invalid?

An invalid test means the test did not return a positive or negative result. If any of your antigen tests are invalid, use another test right away.

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