Antigenic tests, a hope to unclog laboratories


Emmanuel Macron made it one of the pillars of the new health mantra “test-alert-protect” in his speech of October 14: antigenic tests will soon be deployed on French territory to strengthen the screening offer. Indeed, the only current option, in France, to know if one is a carrier of SARS-CoV-2 is to take a test according to the RT-PCR method, on the basis of a nasopharyngeal sample.

However, the delays to obtain an appointment in the laboratory, then the results, are too long, the specialists agreeing on the fact that, to be effective in the policy of screening, these results should be obtained in 48 hours. maximum. The Elysée recognizes that at the beginning “The delays were unacceptable”, but promise that “The testing strategy will be accelerated”, in particular thanks to the technical innovation represented by antigenic tests.

Read also Covid-19: what are the antigenic tests, validated by the High Authority of Health?

While the two types of test are performed from nasopharyngeal swabs, their technologies differ. When RT-PCR tests identify, using a machine used in the laboratory, the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2, antigenic tests detect the proteins surrounding the genetic material of the virus, that is, the antigens. The first technique makes it possible to obtain, under optimal conditions, a result in twenty-four hours, while the second is pronounced in the space of fifteen to thirty minutes.

Furthermore, the method of reading antigenic tests is simpler, consisting of a colorimetric strip, on the model of pregnancy tests. Clear advantages which prompted the authorities to publish an order in Official newspaper, from September 15, to include this medical device in the general measures necessary to deal with the epidemic. Proof of the government’s interest in these tests, the Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, announced on September 17 that he had ordered “5 million antigenic tests” supposed to arrive “By early October”.

Pre-positioned tests in healthcare establishments

So why isn’t this technology designed to be accessible already in use? We had to wait for the opinion of the High Authority of Health (HAS), which was expressed in two stages, September 25 and October 9. According to the independent organization, antigen tests can be used in two situations: for symptomatic people who fail to obtain a PCR test within 48 hours, only within a window of four days after the onset of the symptoms. first symptoms; but also as part of large-scale screening operations, targeting people likely to be infected, such as what has been organized on university campuses at the start of the school year.

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