Antigen tests 'have a place' in facilitating international travel, expert says

Antigen tests 'have a place' in facilitating international travel, expert says

Professor Mary Horgan said that antigen tests, like all other protective modalities, had their place, and that Ireland should be using "all available tools to keep infection rates low." Picture: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

The President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland has said that Ireland would benefit from looking at how other European countries are using antigen testing to facilitate foreign travel.

Professor Mary Horgan said that other countries had adopted the use of antigen tests around international travel because of the more immediate way in which they deliver a result. 

She said that antigen tests only tested a person at that point in time, a fact which other countries had utilised in their own testing systems.  

“They [antigen tests] have a place in allowing people to safely travel. Our ability to fly again should be contingent on vaccination and testing. So we should align where possible on that," she said. 

"We’ve seen in other countries that they are using rapid antigen testing as a means to ensure that when you fly, or go to work, or go to college that you are prevented from doing that immediately."

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Prof. Horgan said it was important that there was “oversight” on whatever testing methods were used, and making sure that they were EU-validated.

However, she said that antigen testing was "an additional tool" and not a "substitution or replacement" for other testing methods, like PCR tests. 

"PCR tests measure genetic material that ranges from very high amounts of virus down, to very low amounts of virus from the weeks of the person being infected," Prof. Horgan explained.

"Antigen tests detect bits of protein by actively replicating virus, so it's a plus minus.

They [antigen tests] are positive in the context of very high viral loads. If you have a very high viral load, you are likely to spread the infection to somebody else.

Prof. Horgan said that antigen tests, like all other protective modalities, had their place, and that Ireland should be using "all available tools to keep infection rates low."

"Two months ago we didn’t have a delta variant," she said. 

"In two months from now we may have an epsilon variant, so it’s really important we adopt a layered approach to protecting ourselves."

 Prof. Mary Horgan: "In two months from now we may have an epsilon variant, so it’s really important we adopt a layered approach to protecting ourselves." Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Prof. Mary Horgan: "In two months from now we may have an epsilon variant, so it’s really important we adopt a layered approach to protecting ourselves." Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Prof. Horgan's comments come ahead of Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan appearance before the Oireachtas Transport Committee later today to discuss the use of antigen testing for Covid-19 in relation to international travel.

Last week, Dr Michael Mina, assistant epidemiology professor at Harvard University, criticised Dr Holohan's and the National Public Health Emergency (Nphet) Team's opposition to antigen test screening.

Dr Mina said that the CMO's position on the accuracy and use of the tests was "inaccurate" and said that getting results quickly could be more more useful to halting Covid’s spread than detecting it down to its last traces.

He pointed out that PCR tests, which are currently favoured by Nphet, detect Covid for up to 30 days, while anyone carrying the virus was at their most infectious for just 10 days.

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