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

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Organization: Public Health Agency of Canada

Published: 2021-12-13

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COVID-19 testing

Health Canada has authorized 3 types of tests:

  1. molecular (often referred to as a PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, test): detects the SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome
  2. antigen: detects the proteins that make up the SARS-CoV-2 virus
  3. serology (often referred to as an antibody test): tells if you have antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus
    • antibodies may be developed in response to a previous infection by SARS-CoV-2 virus or in response to vaccination
    • these tests cannot indicate if you have protective immunity

Self-testing for COVID-19

Self-testing allows people to test themselves or their dependants for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These tests provide a snapshot of your current infection status. This guide should be read in addition to the instructions for use that are provided with the test.

Self-tests are either antigen or molecular tests that can help diagnose COVID-19. Some self-tests should only be used if you have symptoms, while others can be used with or without symptoms. In some cases, repeat serial testing may be done to increase the accuracy of the test if you do not have symptoms. Serial testing involves multiple tests performed over several days.

How to test yourself

There are specific instructions for each type of self-test. Read the instructions that the manufacturer has provided to collect your sample and perform the test correctly.

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

There may be potential risks associated with the misuse, accidental ingestion or spillage on the skin of COVID-19 rapid test kit solution. Learn more about these risks and what to do.

How to interpret the results

The results will be displayed either visually as coloured bands (like a pregnancy test) or by lights on a portable reader, or with the aid of a smartphone application.

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.

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 regulations.

How to report your results

Once you have determined your test results, you may need to contact your local health authority. You can also find the most updated information on your provincial or territorial web site:

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