How to do a rapid antigen test for your child – and what to do if his RAT is positive

Dr. Sarah McNabb has spent much of the past month calmly explaining the best way to administer rapid antigen tests to children.

On Sunday night, when the director of general medicine at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne prepared her three children for the start of the school year, she set out to follow her own advice.

With no symptoms, every six, eight, and 11-year-old had a negative RAT result far from a long-awaited return to primary school.

“We thought we’d do it the night before school because the mornings at our place are pretty chaotic,” said Dr. McNab.

“They were really excited to go back to school, and that really helped with the test.”

After 15 minutes, the family released the completed tests. All three tested positive for COVID-19.

“I think they were surprised. They are all as hotheaded as their mother – they wanted to go back to school.

Sarah McNabb smiles for the camera as she is outside with greenery behind her.
Dr Sarah McNab, Head of the Department of General Medicine at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.(supplied)

So far, symptoms at home have been relatively mild – apart from Dr. McNabb’s eight-year-old having a fever and tummy problems.

However, the family faces their first week in school as they spend it at home on the sofa

For Dr. McNab, the experience only underscores the importance of the RAT tests that are widely available to schoolchildren and families — and the need to use them properly.

before the test

Close-up of a boy's hand in a red shirt with a white test result.
Experts say parents should not panic if their child tests positive.(ABC News: Oliver Gordon)

With millions of RATs distributed to schools and families, multiple weekly tests will quickly become an unfortunate part of many family routines.

During the first phase of the school year where testing is still something new, Dr. McNab said children deserve an honest conversation about what to expect.

“It’s hard to sugar-coat it,” she said. “Giving kids some sense of control is important, not lying to them.”

“I would say ‘This may be inconvenient, but we will get it done quickly and then it will be over.


Close-up of a white plastic rapid antigen test for COVID-19 held by hands wearing blue surgical gloves.
A rapid antigen test for COVID-19 is being prepared in a nursing home.(ABC News: Daniel Bonica)

Not all RATs are the same and each test may differ slightly, so it is important to read the packaging and follow the instructions closely.

Wash your hands before opening the test. Once removed from the package, the test must be performed immediately.

To perform a nasal swab test, you should be provided with a swab pack and a tube of liquid solution closed with a separate cap, as well as a rectangular test device.

Place the liquid tube in the package tube holder before removing the foil cover.

Have the child blow his nose into a tissue and wipe his nose before discarding the tissue.

low and slow

Public pic of the rapid antigen test for COVID
Millions of rapid antigen tests are being distributed to school students. (AAP: Lucas Koch)

Once the chip cap has been removed from the liquid solution tube, it is time to do the test.

Footage taken early in the pandemic of people receiving eye-watering polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests gave some the impression that mice needed to be inserted into the top of the nostril.


In a series of viral explainer videos, Melbourne-based ear, nose and throat surgeon Dr Eric Levy has instead emphasized a simple guiding principle when using RATs: low and slow.

Instead of pointing the nasal swab up inside the child’s nose, point the swab in a horizontal direction and carefully insert it into the nose along the bottom of the nasal passage.

Slowly rotate the swab from side to side about 1 to 2 centimeters inside the baby’s nose for about 15 seconds. Repeat the process by swab inside the other nostril.

This process may feel a little uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful.

Once the swab is removed, it must be immediately placed in the liquid solution. Squeeze the sides of the plastic tube and rotate the swab about 10 times until the solution mixes properly with what was collected on the swab.

Discard the swab and place the small plastic cap over the liquid tube. Turn it upside down and press four drops of the solution onto the well of the test device. It must be clearly indicated on the package where the solution should be dropped.

Throw away the nasal swab and solution, wash your hands and wait 15 minutes before checking the test device.


The instrument will have two letters in the results window: C for control and T for testing.

A line should appear opposite the C, indicating that the test has interacted with the fluid. If there is no line against the letter C, then the test did not pass and a new test will have to be performed.

The line opposite the letter T indicates a positive result for COVID-19.

If there is no line against the T and your child has no symptoms, they will all be ready to go to school.

What do you do if your child’s test result is positive?

Boy in blue shirt and backpack wearing multicolor face mask.
More children are expected to test positive for COVID-19 now that school has resumed.(AP: Brian Anderson)

Just as the administration of RATs will become more routine, so will children who test positive for COVID-19.

Dr. McNab stresses that it is important not to panic.

“We know that for most children, they will not develop symptoms or develop mild symptoms. The number of children who need to go to the hospital for medical care is very small.”

University of Sydney Infectious Disease Epidemiology Associate Professor Miro Schell said parents You may notice flu-like symptoms, but the chance of anything greater or longer being “very, very small.”

However, Dr. McNab said it is normal for parents to be concerned if their child is unwell.


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