Amid rising concerns over the new, highly transmissible Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the need for coronavirus disease (Covid-19) testing is at an all-time high right now. While the RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) tests are generally considered to be the most steadfast way of detecting a potential Covid-19 infection, there are many who rely on the rapid antigen test (Rat) for a relatively quicker check on possible virus contamination.
However, do these rapid tests – which can more often than not be conducted at home and provide results in 5 to 30 minutes – detect the Omicron variant, which has the entire world in a chokehold? Here’s what infectious diseases experts and public health professionals are saying.
According to Emily Volk, the president of the College of American Pathologists, rapid tests can still detect Covid-19 regardless of whether it is caused by the Delta, Alpha, or Omicron variants.
However, preliminary research indicates that Omicron may still be a bit harder to detect than the other variants of the virus. In a statement, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared this week that although the rapid tests still work to detect coronavirus infection even though several new variants have come along, they may have reduced sensitivity when it comes to detecting the Omicron variant.
The government agency said that it is still studying the complete extent of how the tests react to the new variant, which was detected first in South Africa back in November last year. In the meanwhile, the official recommendations regarding at-home Covid-19 testing have not changed – people should still continue to use it when a quick result is important.
According to top US infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci, the sensitivity of at-home Covid-19 tests in detecting Omicron may currently be on the lower side, they are still a good indication of whether an individual has been infected with Covid-19, regardless of the variant. Thus, the tests remain important.
Emily Volk, too, said that there are many good uses of at-home Covid-19 tests which, once combined with vaccination, can make one more comfortable about gathering with family and friends.
So, a rapid antigen test – which can provide results within hours or days – is a good indication of whether one has been infected with the coronavirus or not. In case a person is suffering from a runny nose or a sore throat, these tests are reliable, Volk said, adding however that the context is important.
“If you feel sick after going out to a nightclub in an area with high infection rates, for example, you should look at a negative result from an at-home test with a little more skepticism,” she was quoted as saying by an American publication.
As always, the better idea at hand is to follow up with an RT-PCR test, which is more accurate and done at testing sites and hospitals. In case Covid-19 is detected, the patient’s sample will be sent to an appropriate laboratory to detect the variant of the coronavirus.