Coronavirus Singapore

What it is like to take a DIY Covid-19 test

Four such kits have been approved for use here; ST reporter tries using one of them

KIT CONTENTS: The Abbott Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test box holds a swab, manual, test device, plastic bag for waste disposal, tube and solution. THREE: Next, he inserts the swab into the solution in the tube and swirls it in the solution before b
SIMPLE TEST WITH QUICK RESULTS -KIT CONTENTS: The Abbott Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test box holds a swab, manual, test device, plastic bag for waste disposal, tube and solution. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
KIT CONTENTS: The Abbott Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test box holds a swab, manual, test device, plastic bag for waste disposal, tube and solution. THREE: Next, he inserts the swab into the solution in the tube and swirls it in the solution before b
SIMPLE TEST WITH QUICK RESULTS -ONE: Reporter Timothy Goh checks that he has filled the tube to the specified level with the provided solution.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
KIT CONTENTS: The Abbott Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test box holds a swab, manual, test device, plastic bag for waste disposal, tube and solution. THREE: Next, he inserts the swab into the solution in the tube and swirls it in the solution before b
SIMPLE TEST WITH QUICK RESULTS - TWO: After setting aside the tube for the time being, he inserts the swab into one of his nostrils, followed by the other, using the same swab.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
KIT CONTENTS: The Abbott Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test box holds a swab, manual, test device, plastic bag for waste disposal, tube and solution. THREE: Next, he inserts the swab into the solution in the tube and swirls it in the solution before b
SIMPLE TEST WITH QUICK RESULTS - THREE: Next, he inserts the swab into the solution in the tube and swirls it in the solution before breaking off the swab and leaving it in the tube.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
KIT CONTENTS: The Abbott Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test box holds a swab, manual, test device, plastic bag for waste disposal, tube and solution. THREE: Next, he inserts the swab into the solution in the tube and swirls it in the solution before b
SIMPLE TEST WITH QUICK RESULTS - FOUR: He then squeezes five droplets from the tube into the test device. There is enough liquid in the tube in case there are accidental spills. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
KIT CONTENTS: The Abbott Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test box holds a swab, manual, test device, plastic bag for waste disposal, tube and solution. THREE: Next, he inserts the swab into the solution in the tube and swirls it in the solution before b
SIMPLE TEST WITH QUICK RESULTS - FIVE: After 15 minutes, one line shows on the test device - a negative result. A positive result would show two lines. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

From Wednesday, self-administered Covid-19 test kits will be sold in pharmacies here as increased testing becomes part of the "new normal" way of life with the coronavirus.

Having previously undergone five different types of Covid-19 swabs, including one done by a robot, I decided to try using a do-it-yourself (DIY) test kit to see what the process was like, and how it compared with the other types of tests.

The kit I tried was the Abbott Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test. Another test that will be available here is the Quidel QuickVue At-Home OTC Covid-19 Test.

These will be sold at Watsons outlets for about $10 to $13 a kit.

Two others, the SD Biosensor Sars-CoV-2 Antigen Self-Test Nasal and the SD Biosensor Standard Q Covid-19 Ag Home Test, have been approved for use here by the Health Sciences Authority.

The Abbott Panbio sample kit came in a blue rectangular box the size of a pencil case. Inside were an instruction manual, a swab, a test device, a tiny bottle of solution and a tube to hold the mixture. A resealable plastic bag was also provided for waste disposal.

Before starting, I had to wash and dry my hands. Then I had to squeeze liquid from the bottle into the tube, making sure it was filled up to a specific level.

Setting the tube of liquid aside, I went on to the swab. Removing the stick from its sealed packaging, I took a deep breath and gently pushed it into my nostril.

This was the most difficult step for me as I was not sure whether the swab had gone sufficiently deep inside.

The instructions said to insert it about 2cm deep, until resistance was felt, but - being paranoid - I was not 100 per cent confident that I was feeling enough resistance. I should perhaps have done this in front of a mirror.

I then rotated the swab five times as instructed, ensuring that I felt it gently rubbing against the insides of my nose.

This step had to be repeated for the other nostril with the same swab. At this point, I was a little more confident of my abilities and felt more relaxed.

Next, I put the stick into the tube of liquid and swirled it before breaking off the swab along a demarcated line and leaving it in the tube.

I then squeezed five droplets from the tube into the test device. I did not need to worry about accidentally spilling it as there was more than enough liquid in the tube.

Almost instantly, the display face of the test device began to turn red. It felt like I was carrying out a science experiment at home.

Fifteen minutes later, I checked the device and saw that nearly all the redness had disappeared, leaving a single line on the control indicator - a negative result. A positive result would show two red lines.

With a sigh of relief, I sealed the used equipment in the resealable bag and threw it in the bin. The entire kit can be used only once, and no, I did not want to keep it as a souvenir.

Overall, I found the test quick and simple to use. It was definitely much less uncomfortable than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests I had taken in the past because the swab did not have to be put all the way up my nose, and - for me at least - it was completely painless.

While I was initially surprised by the number of steps required, the manual was detailed, had helpful diagrams and was easy to follow.

Dr Ling Li Min, an infectious diseases specialist at Rophi Clinic, told me that although there may be some minor variations between the four kits approved for use here, all are antigen rapid tests (ARTs) and should work the same way.

Unlike PCR tests, which detect genetic material from the coronavirus, ARTs look for antigens, which are the protein shells that cover the virus, she explained.

Dr Ling, who was previously a senior consultant at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said there are membranes in the test kit containing antibodies.

When the solution is dripped onto the test kit, it flows through the membranes. If there are antigens present, the antibodies will bind with them and form a line on the display.

While ARTs are faster and less uncomfortable than PCR tests, they are less sensitive. Dr Ling said that generally, PCR tests can detect the virus in someone who has symptoms in their first week of illness about 90 per cent to 95 per cent of the time. ARTs can do this for an estimated 70 per cent to 80 per cent of cases.

However, Dr Ling noted that ARTs have a specificity rate of nearly 100 per cent, which means that a positive result is very likely correct.

"If it is positive, you must really quickly go and see a doctor. The chance of a false positive is very, very low," she said.

She cautioned that those using DIY test kits must read and follow the instructions even if they have used a different brand before as there may be some variations, and the reliability of the result depends on people doing the test correctly.

But while such kits may not be suitable for those who are unable to follow instructions or have trouble carrying out the test on their own, such as the very old or young, Dr Ling said they have an important part to play in the nation's overall strategy to combat Covid-19.

This is because such kits can help increase the frequency of tests done here, potentially allowing cases to be detected and tackled before they turn into clusters.

From a psychological point of view, they can also help give peace of mind to people who want to know if they are infected, she said.

Dr Ling said: "If we do it well and properly, and if enough people buy into it, it is one way to keep from needing heightened restrictions every now and then, and we can carry on with our lives… simply through more testing that people are going to be comfortable with."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2021, with the headline 'What it is like to take a DIY Covid-19 test'. Subscribe