Rapid Home Tests: How Do They Work and What Do They Help?

Put a stick in your nose, spit it once into a funnel – or a cotton lollipop.

Spoiler: The lolly doesn’t taste like anything. But this is what they look like, the new hope in the fight against the corona pandemic, the so-called self or lay tests.

Martin Scherer, Eppendorf University Hospital:
“The lay tests are definitely an additional way of combating the pandemic. Especially as a supplement to hygiene concepts, in daycare centers, or in a business context. And then of course the question again and again: I have symptoms that cannot be clearly classified. A lay test can give a first orientation. Is it going in the direction of infectivity – Sars-CoV 2 – or not. “

Rapid tests have been around for a long time, but so far only specialist staff have been allowed to handle them. It can now be done differently: more pleasant, easier, more independent.

The first tests have already been approved and should be on sale in the first shops from Saturday. Others are still waiting for approval. We have tested three different types in advance.

Anterior nasal swab

This test is already approved. The advantage compared to the previous professional swab tests: Here the stick does not have to be inserted deep into the throat – every layperson can also get into the front part of the nose. That tickles a bit, but is not otherwise uncomfortable. Twist five times in the left nostril, five times in the right, then for one minute into the prepared test solution. But be careful: the details of how it is carried out can differ depending on the manufacturer, so it is important to read the instructions carefully in each case.

The actual examination of the sample then follows. A few drops – again depending on the test and manufacturer, here there are four – in the test kit. Then it’s time to wait.

15 minutes – also here: depending on the test – then a look at the result: The line at C says that the test worked. If it does not appear, it is invalid. The T-line shows the result of the sample. Even the smallest line means: positive. The result is negative only if no line appears.

And what does that mean then? Have I now … “tested myself free”? After all, the tests are also in the official opening plan of the federal government, they should offer additional options, even at high incidences. Even the manufacturers point out in the package inserts that a negative result does not rule out an infection. And the professor also warns.

Martin Scherer, Eppendorf University Hospital:
»A negative rapid test for symptoms already gives an indication: I am not infectious. But that does not mean that this is a free ticket and that I no longer have to take security measures. That I don’t have to keep my distance, that I don’t have to put on a mask. I have to keep doing all of this. And I only have a short window of time if the test is negative. “

Because rapid tests are primarily intended to filter out highly contagious people who often also have symptoms. However, it is possible that you are already infected – and the rapid test simply does not work yet.

Spit test

Back to testing. Now it’s time for a spit test – but it has not yet been approved. Here, too, the application is very simple, the few steps are easy to understand. Nevertheless, the following applies: read the instructions very carefully. Then it starts: rinse your mouth, cough, pour saliva into the tube with the sample solution. And after a little shake and let set, the evaluation follows again.

Including: 15 minutes of patience.

Reading the result is the same as in the previous test. In this case that means: negative again.

But what do I have to do if a rapid test is positive? The answer: check the result with a PCR test in the laboratory. But: If I can’t test myself negatively and have to retest positively – what do the rapid tests actually do?

Martin Scherer, Eppendorf University Hospital:
»If the test is positive, the result gives me the opportunity to start contact follow-up earlier, to let me know, to go into isolation earlier. And of course I still have to wait for the positive confirmation test by the laboratory. But that is of course an advantage: I can start the measures earlier if the rapid test is positive. “


This test is also not yet approved. Here, saliva is simply collected again, like in the spit test, only now directly in the mouth. So: moisten the cotton wool lollipop until it is very soft and then put it in the sample tube with sample liquid. What stands out: the lollipop is quite absorbent. In order to apply the test liquid to the evaluation strip, it really has to be squeezed out.

Either way, it then follows again: wait.

Again negative.


So it was all really easy. Nevertheless it is clear:

With the tests in your own living room, part of the responsibility shifts to the citizens.

Martin Scherer, Eppendorf University Hospital:
“That means I have to get it right, I have to interpret it correctly, and I have to draw the right conclusions from it. You cannot test a pandemic away. That only helps with the appropriate measures. “

The most important summarized again. A negative test does not mean: Now I can do what I want, I still have to follow the usual AHA rules. If the test is positive, I have to check the result with a PCR laboratory test. AI should use the waiting time then due for isolation and contact tracking.

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