COVID-19 antigen testing in hospitals and outbreak settings

The COVID-19 antigen test uses a swab to take a sample from your nose. The sample does not need to go to a lab. The test results are quicker than the COVID-19 PCR test, but it has some limitations.

An antigen test is also called a rapid antigen diagnostic test (RADT).

Where HSE COVID-19 antigen tests are used

HSE antigen tests are offered to some:

  • hospital patients who have symptoms of COVID-19, including people attending an emergency department (ED)
  • people in a setting with an outbreak of COVID-19

What happens during the test

  1. The tester will give you a mask to put on, explain what will happen and ask you some questions.
  2. You will be asked to use hand sanitiser to clean your hands properly.
  3. The tester will take some personal details from you including your phone number. Make sure they have the correct number for you.
  4. The tester will use a swab to take a sample from your nose. This may be uncomfortable but it won't be painful.
  5. The tester will test a sample on-site.

If your antigen test result is positive

If your result is positive (COVID-19 found), you will be told within 1 hour of your test. This means that the virus was detected in your sample.

You will need to self-isolate. This is because there is a high risk you could spread the virus to other people.

What you need to do if you have a positive COVID-19 test result

If your antigen test result is negative or invalid

If your result is negative, it means that the virus was not found in your sample.

Sometimes an antigen test cannot provide a positive or negative result. This is called an ‘invalid result’.

If your antigen test result is negative or invalid, we will send a second sample to a laboratory for a COVID-19 PCR test.

If the second test is positive

You will get a text message with the result of the COVID-19 PCR test. If the result is positive, you will get a phone call from a contact tracer.

Contact tracing

How to self-isolate (stay in your room)

Limitations of COVID-19 antigen testing

No test is 100% accurate. All tests have limitations.

The antigen test is less accurate than the COVID-19 PCR test. The test will find the virus in most people who have symptoms. But in some cases, it may not pick up that you have the virus. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, tell a healthcare worker immediately.

Read about protecting yourself and others from COVID-19