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Coronavirus tests
13:43 · 23 July 2021

Self-test to detect the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus

By testing regularly, coronavirus infections can be identified faster and more effectively. This enables us to interrupt infection chains and stem the spread of the coronavirus. The new self-tests are also helping. Find out how to obtain these tests and what you should remember.

A self-test is performed using a nasal swab.

Since February 2021, the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) has issued special authorisations for self-tests that detect the coronavirus. Meanwhile, some self-tests have also been granted a CE conformity marking. These tests can be purchased in pharmacies, stores or online. Please remember to only use tests that have been issued a special authorisation or a CE conformity marking. Find an overview of the antigen tests available on the market (self-tests and rapid tests) here.

Self-tests are suited to the following

Self-tests allow you to quickly and simply test yourself. You can easily store and perform the tests at home. There is no need to book an appointment with a doctor, public health authority or testing station. 

Self-tests: what to remember:

A test result only ever represents a momentary snapshot. A negative test result does not provide a 100-percent certainty that the person is not infected with the coronavirus. Even if you do test negative, you will still need to follow the DHM formula (maintaining a distance, proper hygiene and masking up). In addition, self-tests cannot be used as a “test to release” in order, for instance, to leave a prescribed quarantine.

When performing the test, please pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions in the instruction manual. Proper storage of the test and making sure the test is performed at room temperature is also important. If an antigen test is stored and carried out at the specified temperature ranges as per instruction, sensitivity and specificity are expected to remain high. Divergent temperatures during storage or performance of the test can lead to erroneous test results. As a consequence, this increasingly leads to false positives or false negatives in testing. High temperatures, in particular, are critical, since they lead to more false negatives.

How reliable are self-tests?

As opposed to PCR tests, self-tests (antigen tests) possess a lower detection rate. In a self-test, a larger viral load is necessary to attain a positive test result. In the case of infected people, who already display symptoms, the available self-tests can reliably indicate such. However, persons already become infectious about two days before the onset of symptoms. At this point in time, the viral load tends to still be too low for a self-test to detect the infection (unlike with a laboratory-processed PCR test). In other words, an infected person can test negative although they are infectious. Nevertheless, self-tests are a vital tool in stemming the coronavirus pandemic, because every detected infection counts.

What can a self-test not ascertain?

A self-test detects a high viral load, which represents a risk to other people. This test cannot establish whether someone was previously infected with the coronavirus, however. In any case, please continue to follow the hygiene and infection control measures. Central being the DHM+A+A formula: D = maintaining Distance, H = observing Hygiene (regularly wash your hands with soap for 20 to 30 seconds), M = Masking up, A = (Corona-Warn-) App and  A = Airing.

What should I do in case of a positive test result?

If you test positive in a self-test, you should confirm the result using a PCR test, self-isolating yourself at home and reducing the number of people with whom you are in contact as a precaution until the result is available. Contact your doctor, the public health office or dial 0800 0000837 for a PCR test.

In case of symptoms or contact with someone infected, you should not perform a self-test, but rather contact your doctor or dial 0800 0000837 and carry out a PCR test without delay.

How reliable are rapid tests, self-tests and PCR tests?

Rapid antigen tests and self-tests will detect a coronavirus infection over a specific virus load threshold. Often this only occurs once symptoms have already set in. However, those affected can already be infectious one to two days before the symptoms set in – even before a rapid antigen test or self-test displays a positive test result.

The PCR test analysed in the laboratory serves as the “gold standard” and counts as the most reliable SARS-CoV-2 test, since it can also detect low viral loads. Nonetheless, rapid antigen and self-tests provide important tools in helping to stem the coronavirus pandemic. If used regularly, they can help identify infected people and interrupt infection chains. For all types of test, the following applies: A negative test result is only ever a momentary snapshot. That is why, even after a negative test result, you must in any case continue to follow the DHM+A+A formula. A positive rapid antigen or self-test must be confirmed immediately using a PCR test. If you are not exhibiting any symptoms, this confirmation may be provided by a test centre. You can call 116 117 or check online to find out where in your vicinity you can get tested. If you have symptoms, please first contact your doctor by phone. Whether or not you have symptoms: you should self-isolate at home in case of a positive test result!

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