COVID-19 tests are essential tools to detect and prevent the spread of the virus, but they have a limited shelf life. If you have an at-home COVID-19 test kit, you might wonder if you can still use it after its expiration date. Here are some tips on how to check the validity of your test and what to do if it is expired.
Why do COVID-19 tests expire?
At-home COVID-19 tests are usually rapid antigen tests that detect the presence of viral proteins in a nasal swab sample. These tests contain antibodies that bind to the viral proteins and produce a color change on a test strip. However, these antibodies can degrade over time and lose their ability to detect the virus accurately. Therefore, COVID-19 tests have an expiration date that indicates the maximum time that the antibodies are expected to work reliably.
How to check the expiration date of your COVID-19 test
The expiration date of your COVID-19 test is usually printed on the box or the individual test package. However, this date might not be the actual expiration date of your test. This is because some manufacturers have extended the shelf life of their tests after conducting additional studies and demonstrating their stability over time. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these extensions and maintains a list of authorized over-the-counter COVID-19 diagnostic tests that indicates if the expiration date printed on their packaging is valid or if it has been extended.
To check the true expiration date of your COVID-19 test, you can visit the FDA website and look for your test brand and name. You can also compare the lot number on your test box with the ones listed on the website. Some tests have had their expiration dates extended by up to two years, so you might be able to use your test even if it appears to be expired on the box.
What to do if your COVID-19 test is expired
If your COVID-19 test is expired according to the FDA website, you should not use it to determine if you have COVID-19. An expired test might give you inaccurate results, such as a false negative or a false positive. A false negative result means that you have COVID-19 but the test does not detect it, which could put you and others at risk of infection. A false positive result means that you do not have COVID-19 but the test indicates that you do, which could cause unnecessary anxiety and isolation.
If you have an expired COVID-19 test, you should discard it safely and get a new one that is within its shelf life. You can also contact your health care provider or a local testing site to get tested for COVID-19. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has it, you should isolate yourself until you get tested and receive your results.
How to store your COVID-19 test properly
To ensure that your COVID-19 test works as intended, you should store it properly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You should keep your test in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight and heat sources. You should also avoid opening or damaging the test package until you are ready to use it. If you notice any signs of damage or contamination on your test, such as cracks, leaks, discoloration, or mold, you should not use it and dispose of it safely.
COVID-19 tests are valuable resources that can help you protect yourself and others from the virus. By checking the expiration date of your test, storing it properly, and using it correctly, you can ensure that you get accurate and reliable results.