COVID-19 Self-Test Kits: The New Travel Companion? – TravelPulse

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Guest Author | December 10, 2021 5:58 PM ET
This article is written by Dan Stretch, a Global Rescue Operations Manager based in Nepal during the Mt. Everest climbing seasons. He has coordinated hundreds of evacuations and crisis response operations. He graduated from the University of Hertfordshire with a BS in Paramedic Science.
If you travel, especially internationally, then your destination choices are limited by border restrictions and COVID-19 testing requirements for entry and return home. Your travel kit probably includes hand sanitizer, spare facemasks and disinfectant wipes. Now may be the time to get familiar with a new travel companion — a COVID-19 self-test kit.
COVID self-test kits are useful if you’re going somewhere remote with limited access to testing. You could save yourself an unnecessary end-of-trip obstacle or help prevent the spread in remote communities. Kits are small and light enough to fit into your travel kit and, at $10 to $40 per kit, are a serious option for anyone traveling to areas where alternative testing is unavailable or slow to obtain results.
Last year, COVID testing was only available at health care facilities, hospitals or dedicated testing locations. There was usually a long line before the test and a long wait for the result after the test.
Companies developed rapid virus tests in April 2021. Some kits needed to be mailed to a lab while others provide results at home. The second wave of test kits landed in the marketplace in October, and by the next month, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started recommending COVID-19 self-collection or self-test kits.
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“These self-collection kits and tests are available in pharmacies and retail stores. Some require a prescription. The Food and Drug Administration provides information on which self-tests are authorized for use,” writes the CDC.
Travelers should research whether personal COVID-19 test kit rapid results are acceptable for the borders they intend to cross. These test kits can be obtained inexpensively and are small enough to fit in hand luggage.
The rules and regulations vary for international air travelers. As an example, the United Kingdom uses home test kits as part of their country entry requirements. For U.S.-bound travelers, a negative result from some self-testing COVID-19 kits fulfills the U.S. governments’ requirements for boarding a commercial aircraft.
There are two kinds of over-the-counter testing: molecular (also known as PCR tests) and antigen (also referred to as lateral flow tests). The molecular test typically involves a nasal swab or saliva sample, while the antigen test uses a sample obtained from a nasal or throat swab.
The antigen test result is determined in 15 minutes or less, which is why they are usually called a rapid test. A molecular test, on the other hand, requires a laboratory to process the sample and analyze the result.
Antigen tests are the basis for most at-home screening, but the FDA has also authorized two at-home options — made by Lucira Health and Cue Health — that use molecular processes similar to a PCR test. These FDA-authorized COVID-19 kits are effective, and retesting is not usually required.
While antigen tests are believed to deliver accurate positive results, false positives can still happen. A false-positive is when somebody tested positive but, in actuality, that person doesn’t have COVID-19.
Most antigen testing kits in the market suggest serial testing. The packets usually contain two sets that should be done a few days apart to confirm the results. A recent study on serial testing in the Journal of Infectious Diseases found using self-testing kits every three days boosts accuracy. With FDA-approved tests, using a test during the first week of symptoms then testing three days later will provide 85 percent accuracy.
According to the CDC, you can use a self-test for international travel if it is a SARS-CoV-2 viral test; includes a real-time telehealth supervision service affiliated with the manufacturer of the test; and the telehealth provider and airline officials can confirm and the test result details.
A handful of rapid at-home tests are available without a prescription, including the Abbott BinaxNOW (currently the only one that meets CDC’s required supervised telehealth component for entry to the U.S. from abroad), the Ellume Covid-19 Home Test and the Quidel QuickVue At-Home Covid-19 Test.
COVID-19 self-test kit costs are covered by your health care provider if it’s prescribed. Some countries may restrict the importation of tests not authorized or registered there. If you are bringing a test with you, contact authorities at your destination before travel.
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