Dr Dara Hume, our resident healthwise columnist.

The role of antigen testing in preventing the spread of Covid

Hi everyone, and thanks again for your questions and please keep them coming!

Quite a number of you asked me about Antigen testing and its role in preventing the spread of Covid so I thought I’d address this in this week’s column.

Antigen testing is ONLY designed to test people who do not have symptoms (asymptomatic carriers), but who want to make sure they are not going to pass Covid on to others eg before a wedding/funeral/concert etc. It needs to be performed in the 24 hours before the proposed event. It is not for those who have symptoms, as tests are often negative in Covid infection.

Unfortunately we are regularly getting calls ‘I know it’s not Covid, I’ve a negative antigen test’ - and we’re like a broken record saying ‘If you have symptoms, you have to have a PCR test’. Antigen tests measure infectiousness, not actual infection.

The guidelines are changing all the time, and it is hard for everyone to keep up. But the symptoms remain the same: Runny nose, cough, temperature, sore throat, headache, loss of taste or smell, fatigue, facial pain, clogged nose, shortness of breath - any, or all of these symptoms are considered Covid until proven otherwise. So, if you have any symptoms, book a PCR test on the website www2.hse.ie

The system is incredibly clogged, at the time of print, and it is taking up to 36 hours to get a test in our local test centre (Castlesaunderson) - however if you have symptoms, you must isolate, and await the test. And do not go to school or work.

Maintaining our social distancing, keeping our contacts low, wearing a face covering, washing our hands, coughing into our sleeves - these guidelines have remained unchanged, and are the basis of our fight against Covid. Our second line of defence is vaccination. I would certainly urge anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated yet, to please seek advise from a health professional, not social media, and please separate the science from politics. I believe the doctors, the epidemiologists, the virologists, the immunologists. They have no agenda except the facts and the truth. You may not always agree completely with what NPHET recommends, and often will not agree with what the Government tells us, but I most certainly agree with the science. And COVID-19 is very real. It is a volatile, changeable, and at times deadly virus, and the only way we can get out of this pandemic is vaccination. It’s never too late to get vaccinated. I know that all of our team in Drumalee, including myself, were absolutely delighted, thrilled and relieved when we were received our first vaccinations in February 2021.

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is less than five weeks away! I’m particularly excited as our granddaughter (and her parents of course!) are going to be spending Christmas with us and I can’t wait! For Santy to be coming to our house with presents for the little one is beyond exciting! I pray that we all get to spend this Christmas safely, together.

For non-Covid related illnesses? Please contact your GP. I regularly say that the key to good health is knowing what YOUR normal is, and recognising if something is different. So, in other words, if you have a change in bowels/waterworks/periods, fatigued/new headache, or notice a lump or bump that wasn’t there before, please get it checked out.

We need to be so cautious too that our returning families do not bring Covid home with them - and as we talked about earlier, that is where antigen testing comes in. Plus we want to ensure we don’t pass Covid onto them either, so limiting our contacts in particular in the run up to Christmas is so important.

So for the sake of Christmas in particular, let’s all try to be as safe as we possible can. Our hospitals are bursting at the seams with Covid and non-Covid alike. Our healthcare workers are exhausted, mentally and physically, but determined to keep going. I know, I know... We’ve been at this for over 20 months now, and we’re all finding it so hard to continue with the public health guidelines, but please continue to do your best. A phrase I regularly use in the surgery is ‘You can only paddle your own canoe’ - so if everyone makes the decision that they themselves will do their very best to keep themselves Covid free, in order to keep others Covid free, then we certainly are in a much better position to enjoy a happy and peaceful Christmas!

Please stay safe out there!

You can send your questions to Dr Dara via email to:deardrdara@anglocelt.ie