Q&A: What you need to know about Spain’s new Covid self-test kits 

Q&A: What you need to know about Spain’s new Covid self-test kits 
Photos: Fred TANNEAU / AFP
From July 20th, Spain will allow people to buy quick self-diagnostic tests at the country’s pharmacies without a prescription. Here’s how much they’ll cost, how to use them and what to do if you get a positive or negative test result for Covid-19. 

What’s happened?

After months of insistence from the pharmaceutical sector and regional authorities, Spain’s national government has set a date for the authorisation of sales of Covid test home kits in pharmacies without a prescription. 

From July 20th, people in Spain will be able to buy pruebas de autodiagnóstico (self-test kits) at chemists around the country that have them in stock, although according to some of our readers these tests have been put on sale in some pharmacies before this date. 

Why now?

Spain’s fortnightly infection rate has grown more than sixfold over the past four weeks up to the 601 cases per 100,000 people recorded on July 20th 2021. 

“It’s necessary to increase our diagnostic capacity to identify suspected positive cases and even asymptomatic ones at a faster rate, especially given the high incidence among people aged 12 to 29,” Health Minister Carolina Darias said on Tuesday.

The measure will also help “to reduce to a certain extent the pressure in health centres,” health authorities wrote in the measure’s draft bill. 

Previously, Spain’s Health Ministry had called into question the reliability of self-testing, with the government’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón saying last November that “these tests require a sample that, to guarantee their quality, cannot be carried out by just anyone”.

Back then, the Spanish government was also apprehensive about whether offering self-test kits would also mean infected people going to pharmacies and exposing more people to the virus when they should be self-isolating, especially as the Covid vaccine campaign had not yet begun. 

Which tests will be sold?

In its draft bill published in May 2021, Spain’s Health Ministry established that the sale of antigen and antibody tests would be allowed at pharmacies. 

However, as antibody tests don’t detect the virus but rather the presence of antibodies in our system via a blood sample, people who get a positive result have to get a PCR, as well as those who test negative but have symptoms. 

This means that antigen tests are likely to become the recommended and more widely sold self-test kits as they save time and require less testing than antibody tests.

When should antigen self-test kits be used?

According to Spain’s Agency of Medicines and Medical Products, self-diagnostic tests should be used during the first seven days after infection or in the first five days after the appearance of symptoms, when the viral load is at its highest point.

READ ALSO: Can Spain’s new Covid self-test kits be used for travel?

How do Covid self-test kits work?

Self-diagnostic antigen tests are used in the same way as PCR tests employed at clinics, labs and hospitals. 

You have to introduce the swab (which is on a small stick) up both nostrils to take samples. 

The swab is then mixed in a reagent, which dissolves a specific protein from the outer layer of the virus.

You then have to squeeze a couple of drops of this liquid on the test strip. Within 15 to 30 minutes you’ll have the results. 

“A poor quality sample can lead to an erroneous result, “Spain’s Agency of Medicines and Medical Products said about the importance of getting a good sample. 

“To avoid deterioration, do the test immediately after opening it”.

In terms of reading the results, if the test is negative a single line will show in the control section (C) of the test strip.

If it’s positive, two clearly marked horizontal colour lines will appear, the test line (T) and the control line (C). 

If the result is invalid, only the test line will show. 

When in doubt, Spain’s Health Ministry recommends repeating the test or asking for advice from staff at the pharmacy. The instructions that come with the self-test kit should also provide more clarity. 

What do I have to do based on the result the self-test gives me?

If it comes back negative but you have Covid symptoms, Spain’s Agency of Medicines and Medical Products recommends you still self-isolate as false negatives can occur. 

If the test shows a positive result, then you must self-isolate immediately and you should contact your local health centre to inform them. 

How effective are antigen self-test kits?

As suggested by Fernando Simón, the chances of human error affecting the results rise when the person performing the test isn’t a professional. 

Antigen tests are also considered less effective than PCR tests, especially in the case of asymptomatic people. 

According to British medical research body Cochrane, “in people with confirmed COVID-19, antigen tests correctly identified COVID-19 infection in an average of 72 percent of people with symptoms, compared to 58 percent of people without symptoms”.

How much will they cost?

On Monday July 19th, Spain’s Health Ministry decided it would not regulate the price of these home kits, leaving it up to the pharmaceutical companies and the pharmacies to decide on the cost. It’s forecast that on average they’ll cost between €6 and €10, although some could sell for as much as €15. 

In Portugal they cost between €7 and €10, in France the price is set at €5.20, in Belgium the authorised price is between €7 and €8, while in Germany the self-tests cost between €5 and €10.

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