Published on July 21, 2021

Ozarks Healthcare Physicians caution Community about At-Home COVID-19 Antigen Tests

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, testing methods have constantly evolved and changed. Most recently, the popularity of at-home COVID-19 testing kits has grown due to their ease of access. While these kits have benefits, Ozarks Healthcare physicians are cautioning community members about their accuracy and what steps to take after getting a positive result from an at-home test.

Active COVID-19 infections can be detected with two types of tests: molecular (PCR) and antigen. Molecular tests check bodily fluids, which are usually collected using a throat or nasal swab. Antigen tests identify protein pieces called antigens that the virus sheds. The antigen method is also used in strep throat and pregnancy tests.

With at-home testing kits for antigen methods especially becoming more available from retail stores and pharmacies, many experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are choosing to test strictly at home rather than checking with their healthcare provider. Some research has suggested at-home antigen tests are accurate very early in a COVID-19 diagnosis, but become less sensitive as virus infection progresses.

“An at-home antigen test can read accurate COVID-19 positivity best if used within the first five days of infection,” Dr. Curtis Horstman, Medical Director of Ozarks Healthcare’s Emergency Department (ED), said. “The problem with this is many people are at their worse between seven to ten days of COVID-19 infection and do not always see the need to be tested until then. An inaccurate at-home reading can lead some to think they do not need to isolate, properly care for themselves at home, or seek medical attention until it’s too late.”

Another danger with at-home antigen tests can cause some to panic and make premature trips to their Emergency Department. This can also expose others seeking medical care to COVID-19, leading to a greater spread of the virus.

“Knowing when to seek medical attention with COVID-19 is key, whether you have received a positive diagnosis at home or at a medical facility,” Dr. Horstman said. “A positive COVID-19 diagnosis does not necessarily mean you will require hospital care. If diagnosed with COVID-19, you should monitor yourself at home to prevent the spread to others. If you begin to experience shortness of breath, pre-syncope feelings (feeling as though you might faint or pass out), or have a pulse oximetry of less than 90 percent at rest, you should not hesitate to seek medical attention.”

The best way to prevent a misdiagnosis or inaccurate COVID-19 test reading is to get tested with the molecular (PCR) testing used by healthcare providers. This testing relies on lab results and reads more accurately for the duration of COVID-19 infection. An early diagnosis can provide a chance to receive treatment such as monoclonal antibodies that can lessen the effects and severity of COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies are currently authorized for the treatment of mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 in adults or pediatrics (age 12 years and older and more than 88 pounds) who may be at high risk for progressing to severe illness or hospitalization. Treatment must be given within ten days of symptom onset, so accurate testing is critical to identify eligibility. Ozarks Healthcare is able to provide monoclonal antibody infusions to those who meet this criteria, have a positive molecular (PCR) test confirmed, and receive a recommendation from a physician for infusion.

“If you are recommended to receive a monoclonal infusion, visit with your primary care provider about scheduling your infusion at Ozarks Healthcare, or call our COVID-19 Hotline at 417-505-7120,” Dr. Horstman said. “While not always the answer, infusions can be a patient’s best bet for beating COVID-19 in some cases.”

As Ozarks Healthcare continues to navigate the surge of COVID-19 cases in its region, the ultimate way to lessen your need for COVID-19 treatment and testing is by getting your COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Horstman said.

“Getting vaccinated is the best method to avoid the need for COVID-19 testing and worrying about potential hospitalization altogether,” Dr. Horstman said. “The patients we are seeing as we keep facing the current overwhelming amount of COVID-19 in our region are most often unvaccinated. While monoclonal infusions can sometimes prevent worsening of COVID-19 symptoms, the best option we have is the science behind COVID-19 vaccines. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, so some breakthrough cases will occur. However, the more people who get vaccinated, the less COVID-19 will spread, which will also prevent more variants such as the Delta variant from growing.”

Ozarks Healthcare offers COVID-19 vaccines through its pharmacy by appointment. Those interested in in receiving their vaccine should call 417-256-1793 to schedule an appointment. More information can be found at https://www.ozarkshealthcare.com/coronavirus-updates/.

Ozarks Healthcare is a system of care encompassing primary care and specialty clinics, along with complete rehabilitation, behavioral healthcare, and home health services. While the 114-bed acute care hospital cares for more than 5,400 admissions, the entire health system has more than 364,000 patient visits annually in South Central Missouri and Northern Arkansas. For more information about Ozarks Healthcare, visit www.OzarksHealthcare.com.

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