Some at-home tests may miss variant Omicron in early stages of infection
Experts recently discovered that the Abbott BinaxNOW and Quidel QuickVue rapid at-home COVID tests might sometimes miss traces of the Omicron variant in the first days after contraction.
The researchers create a focus group with 30 people infected with COVID at five different workplaces. These participants experienced what were most likely outbreaks of the Omicron variant that began last month. The focus group received both saliva-based PCR tests and rapid antigen-based tests involving nasal swabs.
It took three days, on average, for the group to test positive on the two rapid antigen tests. After their first positive PCR result, researchers reported that in four cases, participants of the study transmitted the virus to others even after a negative result.
Moreover, studies have also surfaced that some people who initially tested negative on antigen nose-swab tests then went on to receive a positive result after swabbing the back of their throats.
The latest study is consistent with other preliminary evidence that the at-home tests may fail to detect some Omicron cases in the early days of infection.
Thus, people should remain cautious after getting negative results, especially when they exhibit symptoms or believe they may have come into contact with the virus.
Why are the rapid at-home tests missing Omicron in the early stages of infection? They only detect proteins lying on the surface of the coronavirus. Experts say that if mutations in the virus change the structure of these proteins, antigen tests might miss the variant.
The study comes a week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released its own update on the effectiveness of the rapid antigen tests. But early data suggests that antigen tests do detect the Omicron variant but may reduce sensitivity.
Many of those studies began too early with small focus groups, so much more data is needed.
The at-home tests can deliver results in minutes and positive results are more reliable. They can be an important tool alongside PCR tests, which can take days to come back. However a significant amount of testing still needs to be done.
The FDA update was not the first sign of decreased sensitivity with the rapid tests. Overall, the researchers found that the tests were less sensitive to Omicron than to previous variants.
Hopefully in the near future, at-home tests will be able to distinguish the Omicron variant from other variants.
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