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How do you do a lateral flow test? Guidance on taking nose and throat swabs to help detect Omicron Covid

Symptoms of Omicron are very similar to the common cold making infection difficult to spot

Covid restrictions are gradually being relaxed across the UK thanks to a decline in infections.

A total of 97% of local areas saw a fall in infections in the week to 7 February, while just 12% had a week-on-week rise.

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People are being advised to take a nasal and throat sample to detect the Omicron variant (Photo: Getty Images)

If the encouraging decline in case numbers continue, it is expected that the Prime Minister will go ahead with his plan to remove all remaining legal coronavirus restrictions later this month as part of the ‘living with Covid’ plan due to be announced on 21 February.

The requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus is expected to be scrapped as part of the plan, while current testing measures and rules for international travel could also be eased.

Relaxations to restrictions have also been made in Northern Ireland, with rules replaced with guidance from Tuesday (15 February), although self-isolating and testing guidance currently remains the same.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she will publish a new strategic framework for dealing with Covid on 22 February, while Wales is currently at Alert Level 0 with rules on Covid passes and wearing face masks due to end later this month.

Despite the gradual easing of rules, people are still being advised to be cautious as the highly transmissible Omicron variant is still circulating, and with symptoms being very similar to the common cold, testing is still important to help detect cases and prevent further outbreaks.

If you think you may have coronavirus symptoms, here’s what you need to know about lateral flow testing.

Do I need to swab my throat on a lateral flow test?

Lateral flow tests now only require users to take a swab from their nose, but some experts are advising that a throat swab should be taken as well.

As symptoms start early on when infected with coronavirus, the virus may not yet be detectable inside the nose and so it may result in a negative test.

However, if both a nasal and throat swab are taken, it is thought there is a greater chance of detecting the virus.

Professor Jennifer Rhon, a cell biologist at University College London, explained that she only tested positive for Covid-19 after taking a swab from her throat, and is advising others to do the same.

In a Twitter post, Dr Rhon explained: “Well, there it is. Today, with the “wrong” (i.e. cold) symptoms and after a string of negative LFTs, I finally took Twitter advice and swabbed my throat as well as my nose (no mean feat with that diddly stick).

"If you think you might have Covid, consider adding the throat sample.

“Just for the avoidance of doubt - the test I used was FlowFlex, one of the UK government-provided LFD kits. These instruct the user to perform nasal sampling only.

“Other kits are designed for dual tonsil/nasal sampling. My suggestion is to perform dual even for former.”

What does it mean if my test result has a faint red line?

A lateral flow test result is interpreted by the ‘C’ and ‘T’ on the device where the swap sample is dripped on to.

A test that returns a red line next to the C means it is negative, while two red lines - one next to the C and one next to the T - means it is positive and you had Covid-19 when it was taken.

If you have no red lines at all, or just one line next to the T, this means the test is void and a new one will need to be taken on a fresh kit.

In some cases, the red line next to the T may be faint and barely visible. However, this is likely to be a positive result even if it is faint.

What are the symptoms of Omicron?

The Omicron variant appears to cause milder disease for most people, with the symptoms being similar to the common old.

Symptoms linked to variant include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Sore throat 
  • Persistent cough
  • Night sweats
  • Fever 
  • Nausea

If you have any of the above symptoms, it is advised that you take a Covid-19 test and self-isolate at home until your results are confirmed.

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