As COVID-19 cases explode across the world, demand for testing and at-home test kits has soared.
The recent waves of the infection are believed to have been fuelled by the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus. While RT-PCR tests are considered the gold standard of COVID testing, people are also increasingly reaching out to rapid antigen tests for their convenience and quick results.
But can these tests, which can also be conducted at home, successfully detect Omicron?
According to Dr Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor and the top U.S. infectious disease expert, not all these tests can be reliable, reported NBC Chicago.
This view is also supported by preliminary research by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics program, which found that rapid antigen tests may be less sensitive at detecting the omicron variant and could lead to results that are “false negative.”
“Early data suggests that antigen tests do detect the omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity,” the FDA said.
The agency added that it will continue to evaluate the test sensitivity against newer variants, but this does not mean these rapid antigen tests are redundant. They still remain an important indication of whether an individual has been infected with COVID-19.
“The FDA continues to authorize the use of these tests as directed in the authorized labeling and individuals should continue to use them in accordance with the instructions included with the tests. Antigen tests are generally less sensitive and less likely to pick up very early infections compared to molecular tests,” FDA said in a statement.
In an interview with NBC’s “TODAY” show, CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walesnky also stressed the same, adding that if symptoms persist, the test should be followed up with an RTPCR test.
“They are a really really helpful tool. But what we would reiterate, and is also in our guidance, is that if you have a negative antigen test and you have symptoms, then you should go ahead and get that PCR test,” she said.
“And those antigen tests are really helpful for things like testing to stay in school, where we’re getting an antigen test every day, or every other day, or where they’re using them in higher education to screen students every several days, that’s where they perform really quite well, as well,” Walensnky said, reported NBC Chicago.