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Scary reason you should check the expiry date on your Covid tests

At-home testing kits may have been a game changer when they first hit the scene, but using our stockpiled tests from the height of the pandemic comes with one major downside.  

Remember when double-ply toilet paper was considered one of the most valuable forms of currency? Or when being within a certain temperature range was a requirement for getting into your weekly spin class? 

Even for those of us who have shoved memories of the pandemic right to the back of our minds, it’s hard to forget just how distressing the entire period was. 

At-home Covid testing kits proved immensely valuable throughout the pandemic, helping Aussies diagnose and isolate themselves to minimise the spread of the virus. 

But, as we chug along into the fourth year of the global pandemic, facing the latest wave of the virus, relying on our stockpiled stash of tests to keep track of the new JN.1 variant may be riskier than we thought.

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At-home testing kits, like any pharmaceutical test indicating the presence of a virus or hormone, are created for timely use. In other words, your stash of Covid tests from 2021 still sitting in your medicine cabinet for a rainy day may have already expired. 

Yes, you read that correctly. It turns out, test manufacturers and pharmacies don’t just slap on an expiry date for decoration. 

As a general rule, expiry or use-by dates listed on any medication or testing kit signify the point in time at which the product is no longer deemed effective. Continuing to use them beyond their intended time frame could not only result in misdiagnosis or inadequate treatment but also potential adverse side effects. 

In case your inner environmentalist is making you hesitant to trash your collection of out-of-date nasal swabs or saliva tests, here’s everything you need to know about the risks of testing with an expired kit.

The problem with using expired Covid tests

Back when we regularly assessed our saliva out of virus paranoia or workplace obligation, it became only natural to churn through boxes of testing kits. Now, as we settle into our ‘post-pandemic’ reality (despite concern continuing to grow over the new JN.1 variant), overall restrictions have significantly eased. 

While many are relieved to not have to present a negative Covid test before boarding a plane, keeping our bodies and homes free of the virus has largely become a self-managed endeavour. 

But using an expired testing kit to determine whether you have Covid can lead to misleading and inaccurate results, often failing to pick up the presence of the virus altogether. The reason for their decreased accuracy over time is the gradual degradation of certain testing parts. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, SARS-CoV-2-antigen-specific antibodies stored in each kit’s testing strip deteriorate over time, minimising the chances of picking up the virus. 

If you aren’t sure about the expiry date of your at-home tests, the trusty TGA has released some guidelines explaining the specific shelf life of popular testing kits. Depending on the manufacturer and test type, different TGA-approved testing kits have a shelf life ranging from 13 months to 24 months. 

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