Antigen Testing Report Finds ‘Common Misconceptions’ About How They Work
The deployment of antigen testing should be accompanied by a “simple and clear message” that this is not a foolproof method of detecting Covid-19, suggests a new report.
The report by behavior specialist Pete Lunn of the Institute for Economic and Social Research (ESRI) and psychologist Martina Barjaková concludes that there is a misconception about the effectiveness of such tests.
It shows that less than all Irish people (48%) know that a rapid antigen detection test (RADT) is less effective at detecting the virus than a PCR test.
The Amarach poll for the Ministry of Health found that 57% of people agreed that one of the benefits of an antigen test was that it could be used to screen people before participating in activities or events. events, 36% thought the test was a quick way for people with symptoms to get tested and 27% thought a test was a convenient way for someone to make sure they did not have Covid -19.
The report recommends that when antigen test results are uploaded to an online system such as the HSE’s, a message highlighting the limitations of the test.
The Irish survey combined with those in Germany and the UK suggest “widespread misconceptions” about antigen testing.
Proponents of antigen testing say they are very good at detecting when someone is infectious and therefore likely to pass the virus on to someone else, but not as good as PCR tests at detecting whether someone has virus or not.
“Substantial proportions of the public in the three countries where we have specific evidence for RADT do not understand the difference between RADT and PCR testing, including when it comes to public health advice for people with symptoms of Covid- 19 ”, states the report.
“Where we have evidence of actual use of RADT, misconceptions persist … many people are not currently using (or intend to use) RADT according to health guidelines. public. “
The report was commissioned by the government’s rapid testing expert advisory group, as antigen testing is expected to be more widely rolled out in the coming months.
The researchers concluded that antigen testing can only be deployed effectively if there is clear communication to the public that “simply and repeatedly explains how the two tests differ and when (antigen testing) is appropriate.”
While the majority of people understand that Covid-19 tests have a margin of error, “a significant minority of people incorrectly interpret test results as implying certainty about their health.
“The main danger in the context of Covid-19 are false negatives, which, if not understood correctly, can give false assurance of not being infectious and possibly lead to riskier social behaviors.
“Despite this relatively weak understanding of test results, there is no strong evidence that people are likely to change their protective behaviors after negative RADT, although this should not be interpreted to imply that the behavior does not. will not be affected. ”
The report concluded: “Overall, this review of the literature suggests that human judgments and behaviors are likely to be important for the successful implementation of RADT programs and supports some specific interventions to address the problems identified.