Covid lateral flow tests: Ten things to avoid when testing for the virus


Taking lateral flow tests regularly continues to be an important part of Scotland’s fight against the spread of Covid.

Coronavirus testing can help prevent the disease being passed on as a positive result means you must isolate for seven days if vaccinated and ten if not fully vaccinated.

This helps stop the spread as it gives you time to recover and reduces the transmissibility risks.

However, there are some things that you may be doing wrong when carrying out those lateral flows.

From storage to contamination risks, test accuracy can be put at risk.

Here are ten things you should avoid when testing using lateral flows.

A used rapid antigen test, also known as a lateral flow test showing a positive test result for the Covid-19
Testing regularly helps to prevent the spread of Covid.

  • Storing at the wrong temperature

Lateral flow tests should be stored at a temperature between 2-30C.

They should also be stored away from direct sunlight.

These conditions will preserve the integrity of the swab.

Storing at high temperatures can cause the proteins in the test to be denatured which impacts the accuracy.

It is pretty difficult to store in a place so warm in Scotland though – especially during these colder months.

However, letting tests get too cold can also have a negative impact as a frozen kit damages the vital components.

  • Using an out of date test

It is important to check the date on the test packing before using.

Using an out of date test could mean your results are not accurate.

You should be able to find the expiration date on the outer packaging.

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Expired tests can contain biological or chemical reagents that have gone off or are denatured.

  • Opening the test too early

Do not open the lateral flow test packaging until just before you are ready to start.

Opening the test too early can risk contamination which may lead to an incorrect result.

Storing open tests could result in a false positive.

When you are about to test yourself make sure you do not touch the tip of the swab when opening up the packet.

The soft bit that goes up your nose should remain as clean as possible to make sure you test result is as accurate as it can be.

Do not put the swab down on any surfaces as even if they are clean, the swab can still be contaminated.

Before taking a lateral flow test it is important to blow your nose.

A nasal swab is part of most tests but swabbing a blocked nose or getting lots of snot on the test can invalidate the result.

  • Swabbing at the wrong angle and depth

When inserting the nasal swab, try to reach the deeper part of your nasal passages.

The aim is not to swab the inside of you nostril so going in at the wrong angle or depth can risk an inaccurate result.

Rather than going directly upwards, try to go horizontally and about two or three centimeters back.

You should then rotate the swab gently against the walls of your nasal passage the number of time that the test instructions advice and repeat on the other side if needed.

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  • Eating, drinking, chewing gum, brushing teeth or smoking before testing

Doing any of these can impact the test and give an inaccurate result.

It is advised to wait at least 30 minutes before taking a lateral flow if you have eaten, had a drink, brushed your teeth, smoked a cigarette or even chewed on some gum.

  • Adding too few or too many drops to test

Adding the right number of drops to the best is important as it allows the liquid to move across the test surface in a specific time.

This in turn allows the most accurate result to be returned.

Adding too many or too few drops can mess up the timeline of the test and it may not work properly.

Most lateral flows advise 2-3 drops of liquid, but it is best to check the individual instructions before completing the test.

  • Reading the result too early or too late

Reading your test result at the right time is vital.

Be patient but do not wait too long to see if it shows positive or negative.

Read the result after the time listed in the test instructions.

Recording the result too early is likely to give you false negative as the chemicals have not yet had the chance to work properly.

On the other hand, waiting too long could return a false positive as the risk of contamination is greater.

Continuing with a bloody swab

A swab contaminated with blood will likely give an inaccurate result.

Nasal swabs can sometimes become a bit bloody because of the way they are carried out.

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If you spot some blood, restart the test once the bleeding has stopped.

You may want to opt for a saliva test only if you are prone to nose bleeds to help make sure results are as accurate as possible.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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