How to do a lateral flow test, what does a positive lateral flow look like - and how accurate are they?

With growing concern around the Omicron variant and cases in Northern Ireland on the rise, here's everything you need to know about lateral flow tests.

By Sarah McCann, Search and Trends Writer
Tuesday, 21st December 2021, 1:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 9:54 am

Taking lateral flow tests are an important way to stay safe from Covid.

With cases of Covid on the rise, the Department of Health are encouraging people to take regular lateral flows to help curb the spread of the disease.

But how do you take a lateral flow test and where can you order them - here's everything you need to know.

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What are lateral flow tests?

You should only take a lateral flow test if you have no symptoms of Covid, they are very similar to pregnancy tests and offer a quick result in under 30 minutes.

If you have any symptoms of Covid, do not take a lateral flow test, you will need to take a PCR Covid test instead.

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This is what a positive lateral flow test looks like.

How to do a lateral flow test

Lateral flow tests involve taking a swab of the nostril and back of throat.

Read the instructions included in your pack and ensure you have all the equipment required to take your test.

Before taking your test do not smoke, drink or eat as this may impact the results.

Instructions may be different depending on the lateral flow tests you receive, the NHS has put together a helpful video on how to take your test, you can watch it here.

How to order lateral flow tests

Anyone can order or collect lateral flow tests in Northern Ireland for free.

You can order them online here, or alternatively you can pick up a test kit at a variety of venues across Northern Ireland outlined here.

What does a positive Covid test look like?

A positive lateral flow test will show up with two red lines, it's important to count the test as positive, even if the second red line is faint.

After testing positive you will need to self-isolate immediately and let anyone you live with or have been in close contact know so they can arrange a test also.

You need to order a PCR test to confirm your positive result and to check what variant you may have - a lateral flow cannot detect this but a PCR can.

How accurate are lateral flow tests?

Lateral flow tests are considered incredibly accurate if carried out correctly.

On Friday, December 17, a study from UKHSA concluded that lateral flow tests are effective at detecting both the Omicron and Delta strain alike.

In July a study by Queen Mary University of London found that lateral flow tests correctly identified 95% of the positive cases found by PCR tests.

Anyone who receives a positive lateral flow test is required to then take a PCR test to confirm the positive result.

PCR tests are still seen as the most accurate test available as they can identify strains of Covid, but they are only to be used when people have symptoms.

How to register a lateral flow test in Northern Ireland

After doing your lateral flow you will need to report your result whether it is positive or negative, you can do so here.

If you are unable to do this online you can register your result by calling 119.

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