Information for patients: A guide to antigen self-testing for COVID-19

Download the alternative format
(PDF format, 177 KB, 2 pages)

Organization: Public Health Agency of Canada

Published: 2023-02-14

On this page

Antigen self-testing for COVID-19

Antigen self-tests, often referred to as rapid antigen tests, are used to detect proteins from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This differs from molecular tests, often called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which work by detecting genetic material from SARS-CoV-2.

Self-testing allows people to test themselves or their dependants for SARS-CoV-2. An antigen self-test cannot tell you how contagious you are or if you can spread the virus to someone else. You could pass COVID-19 to others even before you get a positive result on a test.

How to test yourself

Read this guide along with the instructions that are provided with the test.

The instructions tell you how to collect a sample and take the test. They are written specifically for that type of kit. If you take a sample in a different way, your test result may be inaccurate.

Some things to keep in mind when using a COVID-19 self-test:

Health Canada-authorized COVID-19 antigen self-tests are safe to use when you follow the test’s step-by-step instructions.

However, there may be risks associated with the COVID-19 rapid test solutions, such as misusing, accidentally ingesting or spilling on the skin.

Learn more about these risks and what to do.

Note: We have updated the list of authorized testing device to include the available instructions for use for authorized COVID-19 tests.

How to interpret the results

The results will be displayed either:

Follow the instructions provided with the test to determine if your results are positive, negative or invalid.

A positive result

A positive result means the test detected SARS-CoV-2 in your sample. Although you may or may not have any symptoms, it's possible that you could still spread the virus.

Steps to take:

A negative result

A negative result means SARS-CoV-2 was not detected in your sample. However, this result does not rule out a SARS-CoV-2 infection. You may still have COVID-19 and you may still be contagious.

To increase the chance that the negative result for COVID-19 is accurate, you should:

Steps to take:

An invalid result

An invalid result means that the test was unable to process your sample. The test did not work properly. To reduce the risk of an invalid result, be sure to follow the instructions provided with your test.

Steps to take:

How to dispose of your test

It's important to dispose of your test properly. To limit the risk to others, you should discard the used test components in accordance with federal, provincial, territorial and local guidelines.

How to report your results

To find out what you should do if you get a positive, negative or invalid test result, you may need to contact your local health authority. You can also find the most updated information on your provincial or territorial website:

Page details

Date modified: