Testing yourself for coronavirus infection can be more convenient than getting a clinic or lab test, but from a public health standpoint, experts say there’s at least one key downside.
Actual infection numbers in the United States in the first week of July were about seven times higher than reported cases, suggested an estimate from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Contributing to the problem has been the steep spike in use of self-tests, which has surpassed the number being done in laboratories, according to the National Institutes of Health.
In the US, positive results of Covid-19 tests administered by medical professionals are ultimately reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there isn’t any requirement for people to report their self-test results to health care providers or local public health departments.
Coronavirus self-tests – also known as home tests or over-the-counter tests – detect current coronavirus infections, not antibodies to the virus, and can easily and quickly be taken at home or elsewhere, regardless of your vaccination status, the CDC says. Most self-tests are rapid antigen tests, which can be less sensitive than PCR tests done in clinics or labs. Some home tests are PCR tests, but antigen versions are much more common and accessible.
Ideally, you should report positive results to both your provider and local health department for several reasons, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. For one, he explained, if you test positive, your health care provider might need to intervene with treatments such as monoclonal antibodies or antivirals to mitigate your symptoms, depending on your Covid-19 vaccination or health status.