Do COVID-19 At-home Test Kits Expire?

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Do COVID-19 At-home Test Kits Expire?

Rapid at-home COVID-19 tests (or rapid antigen tests) have become increasingly popular over the past few months. These tests can be bought over-the-counter and administered at home, providing results in 30 minutes or less.

It’s handy to have several of these rapid test kits at home when you’re trying to distinguish whether you have allergies, the flu, or COVID-19. They can also put you at ease before attending any gatherings where you may put other people at risk.

That said, don’t store for them too long because they have an expiration date.

When Do Rapid COVID Tests Expire?

Rapid antigen test kits can only be stored for several months up to a year.

“Home COVID-19 rapid antigen tests have an expiration date, which can be found on the box, and it’s important to verify before beginning the test,” Christopher Scuderi, DO, a family physician at University of Florida Health Jacksonville, told Verywell. “We are continuing to learn more about the stability of COVID-19 home tests or rapid antigen test kits.”

The shelf life of test kits generally varies among different manufacturers. For instance, the RapCov Rapid COVID-19 Test can be stored for eight months. Meanwhile, the shelf lives of two antigen tests, namely the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card and CareStart COVID-19 Antigen Test, were extended to 12 months after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed their stability studies.

“To ensure test accuracy, tests should be used within the appropriate time frame,” Scuderi said.

How Should You Store Test Kits?

The test kit’s expiration date is not the only factor that may affect its quality. The way you store it matters, too.

“You should store your test based on the storage instructions on the package,” Scuderi said. “It’s important to note that storage conditions are important and storing the test outside of these parameters can affect the accuracy of the test. Be sure to clearly review temperature and storage recommendations before using a specific test.”

Rapid antigen tests aren’t designed to withstand moisture, extreme humidity, or freezing temperatures. The Clip COVID Rapid Antigen Test, for example, should be stored at 59°F to 86°F (15°C to 30°C).

Tests are not supposed to be refrigerated or frozen. Although the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card can be stored at 35.6°F to 86°F (2 to 30°C), the test components must be at room temperature before use.

“Home-use tests generally are stored at room temperature, but that means a relatively regulated room temperature, not the back of a hot car or a car in the winter,” Sheldon Campbell, MD, PhD, FCAP, associate director of Yale Medicine’s clinical microbiology lab and professor of laboratory medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, told Verywell. “Both extremely hot temperatures and freeze-thawing can ruin these kits.”

In general, all individuals should follow the instructions indicated in the box regarding the storage, expiration, and testing procedure of antigen tests to ensure that they’ll work as intended.

“While these tests seem very simple, they’re quite complicated little devices with a lot of pieces that have to work for them to give the right answer,” Campbell said.

Can You Use an Expired Test?

Using an expired rapid antigen test is ill-advised.

“Depending on the design of the test, it might give you either a false positive or negative test [result],” Campbell said. “Don’t do it. A wrong test is worse than none at all.”

Receiving a false result from a diagnostic test can be dangerous. If you get a false negative, you might infect others as you go about your usual activities.

“If you use an expired rapid antigen test, the test results may not be accurate,” Scuderi said. “It’s important to note that antigen tests are very good at diagnosing a positive test, especially if you are showing symptoms. If it is positive, there is a high likelihood you have COVID-19.”

Take note that symptomatic or unvaccinated individuals who get a negative result are recommended to get tested again.

“If you are symptomatic after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 and your rapid test is negative, you should call your family physician and consider getting a molecular PCR test,” Scuderi said. “Your family physician can help with diagnosis and treatment options if you’re positive and can also help determine how long you should quarantine depending on your vaccination status and any other health conditions.”

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