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Do COVID-19 tests actually detect the omicron variant?

The coronavirus has left us with an abundance of questions over the last two years, and while the virus is constantly changing and new variants are expected to emerge, people are left wondering if heading to your doctor for a COVID-19 test can detect all versions of the virus — especially the new omicron variant.Just as quickly as the delta variant of COVID-19 began spreading across the country, the newest variant was identified in South Africa in late November when the World Health Organization declared it a variant of concern. The variant has since been reported in the United States in several states. So how do you know if you potentially have the omicron variant of COVID-19? We asked experts to break down what options you have for COVID-19 testing and if they test for the omicron variant. Do current COVID-19 tests detect the omicron variant? The majority of COVID-19 tests are going to give you a “yes” or “no” answer, and that’s about all they can offer the individual, said Dr. Katie Passaretti, vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health. Because mutations of COVID-19 can impact the genetic sequence that PCR tests look for and the proteins antigen tests look for, there is always the concern that tests may not be able to detect it, added Dr. Barry Lutz, co-founder and chief scientific adviser of Anavasi Diagnostics, a molecular detector for COVID-19. “But, so far it looks like most tests will be able to handle the omicron mutations so that a person infected with the variant can still be diagnosed,” he said. As of now, the Federal Drug Administration has no concern over both the rapid antigen and molecular diagnostics test’s ability to detect the variant, but they are keeping a close watch on variants of COVID-19 and will announce any concerns, added Dr. Gwen Murphy executive director of epidemiology at LetsGetChecked at-home health testing kits.But just because the tests are able to detect you have COVID-19, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to distinguish which variant you have, Lutz said. In order to figure out the specific variant, genome sequencing is required — and you’re unlikely to get those results from your standard PCR test. “Samples are sometimes sequenced for public health surveillance, but sequencing results are typically not available for individuals getting tests,” he said. In short: Yes, most tests should be able to detect the omicron variant of COVID-19, but you won’t get the specific variant listed on your results without a deeper dive in a lab. Types of COVID-19 testsMolecular diagnostic tests (PCR tests)The main option for testing is a lab-based PCR test that typically takes a couple of days to get results. These tests are often administered in labs or clinics and can identify the presence of COVID-19, Murphy said. Rapid antigen testsThese tests have much quicker results (about 15-20 minutes), are cheap and easy to use and can be purchased at your local drug store and done at home, explains Passaretti. The concern with rapid tests is they aren’t always as accurate, sometimes providing a false positive or negative result. Overall, she said it’s a good, quick option, especially for someone with a significant amount of the virus or a high-risk case.Rapid molecular testsPassaretti said you may see some urgent care facilities using this COVID-19 testing that is an in-between of the two above options. Results come back in about 15-20 minutes and can detect a virus slightly better than an antigen test, she said.Should you be concerned about which variant you have? While we’re still learning more, most experts agree that it’s most important to know that you have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, but there’s no real benefit on an individual level to know which specific variant you have. When it comes to the variant itself, it’s useful for public health officials to know what mutations are out there to ensure that the virus, in whatever form, is still detectable on tests, Lutz said. The concern is that if the virus mutates to the extent it becomes undetectable, the person-to-person transmission will spread quickly and evolve, he said. What makes omicron different from other variants of COVID-19? There’s a lot unknown about the omicron variant at this time and scientists are hard at work to determine if it’s any more transmittable or less fatal than the other COVID-19 variants, Murphy said. Passaretti notes, “It’s a little too early to know if the symptoms are different.” Based on a few cases coming from South Africa, symptoms such as fatigue, fever, coughing, and sore throat are much more prominent compared to the loss of taste and smell, but this may change over time as scientists learn more, she said. The real difference between omicron and other variants of COVID-19 is there are an “unusually large number of mutations,” explains Lutz. But more research is needed to know how that will affect the individual. “Genetic variations of the original strain or the delta strain are to be expected and not necessarily concerning, the problem arises when these genetic variations affect the parts of the virus that are vaccines targets or changes which might allow the vaccine to transmit even more easily or cause more severe disease,” Murphy said. “Understanding which variant you have is important for public health professionals as they continue to understand how the variant is spreading and what these implications are.”What can you do to keep yourself safe from the omicron variant? Most experts encourage people to get vaccinated (and get your COVID-19 booster) and follow the same protocol set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention if they’re concerned about exposure to COVID-19 or experience symptoms. “For people who become symptomatic for COVID-19, the next steps would be the same whether you have the delta, omicron, or any other variant,” Murphy said. These include wearing a mask in crowded spaces, staying home if you’re sick, getting vaccinated, and contacting your doctor if you have symptoms, Passaretti added. And if you find you’re coming down with some questionable symptoms, Murphy recommends tracking your symptoms and contacting your doctor ASAP. This helps avoid worsening symptoms and can get you the help you need. “Keeping track of the day that you first started experiencing symptoms and then recording which symptoms you have on which day is very helpful for your doctor if you need to seek help,” Murphy said.

The coronavirus has left us with an abundance of questions over the last two years, and while the virus is constantly changing and new variants are expected to emerge, people are left wondering if heading to your doctor for a COVID-19 test can detect all versions of the virus — especially the new omicron variant.

Just as quickly as the delta variant of COVID-19 began spreading across the country, the newest variant was identified in South Africa in late November when the World Health Organization declared it a variant of concern. The variant has since been reported in the United States in several states.

So how do you know if you potentially have the omicron variant of COVID-19? We asked experts to break down what options you have for COVID-19 testing and if they test for the omicron variant.

Do current COVID-19 tests detect the omicron variant?

The majority of COVID-19 tests are going to give you a “yes” or “no” answer, and that’s about all they can offer the individual, said Dr. Katie Passaretti, vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health. Because mutations of COVID-19 can impact the genetic sequence that PCR tests look for and the proteins antigen tests look for, there is always the concern that tests may not be able to detect it, added Dr. Barry Lutz, co-founder and chief scientific adviser of Anavasi Diagnostics, a molecular detector for COVID-19.

“But, so far it looks like most tests will be able to handle the omicron mutations so that a person infected with the variant can still be diagnosed,” he said.

As of now, the Federal Drug Administration has no concern over both the rapid antigen and molecular diagnostics test’s ability to detect the variant, but they are keeping a close watch on variants of COVID-19 and will announce any concerns, added Dr. Gwen Murphy executive director of epidemiology at LetsGetChecked at-home health testing kits.

But just because the tests are able to detect you have COVID-19, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to distinguish which variant you have, Lutz said. In order to figure out the specific variant, genome sequencing is required — and you’re unlikely to get those results from your standard PCR test. “Samples are sometimes sequenced for public health surveillance, but sequencing results are typically not available for individuals getting tests,” he said.

In short: Yes, most tests should be able to detect the omicron variant of COVID-19, but you won’t get the specific variant listed on your results without a deeper dive in a lab.

Types of COVID-19 tests

Molecular diagnostic tests (PCR tests)

The main option for testing is a lab-based PCR test that typically takes a couple of days to get results. These tests are often administered in labs or clinics and can identify the presence of COVID-19, Murphy said.

Rapid antigen tests

These tests have much quicker results (about 15-20 minutes), are cheap and easy to use and can be purchased at your local drug store and done at home, explains Passaretti. The concern with rapid tests is they aren’t always as accurate, sometimes providing a false positive or negative result. Overall, she said it’s a good, quick option, especially for someone with a significant amount of the virus or a high-risk case.

Rapid molecular tests

Passaretti said you may see some urgent care facilities using this COVID-19 testing that is an in-between of the two above options. Results come back in about 15-20 minutes and can detect a virus slightly better than an antigen test, she said.

Should you be concerned about which variant you have?

While we’re still learning more, most experts agree that it’s most important to know that you have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, but there’s no real benefit on an individual level to know which specific variant you have.

When it comes to the variant itself, it’s useful for public health officials to know what mutations are out there to ensure that the virus, in whatever form, is still detectable on tests, Lutz said. The concern is that if the virus mutates to the extent it becomes undetectable, the person-to-person transmission will spread quickly and evolve, he said.

What makes omicron different from other variants of COVID-19?

There’s a lot unknown about the omicron variant at this time and scientists are hard at work to determine if it’s any more transmittable or less fatal than the other COVID-19 variants, Murphy said.

Passaretti notes, “It’s a little too early to know if the symptoms are different.” Based on a few cases coming from South Africa, symptoms such as fatigue, fever, coughing, and sore throat are much more prominent compared to the loss of taste and smell, but this may change over time as scientists learn more, she said.

The real difference between omicron and other variants of COVID-19 is there are an “unusually large number of mutations,” explains Lutz. But more research is needed to know how that will affect the individual.

“Genetic variations of the original strain or the delta strain are to be expected and not necessarily concerning, the problem arises when these genetic variations affect the parts of the virus that are vaccines targets or changes which might allow the vaccine to transmit even more easily or cause more severe disease,” Murphy said. “Understanding which variant you have is important for public health professionals as they continue to understand how the variant is spreading and what these implications are.”

What can you do to keep yourself safe from the omicron variant?

Most experts encourage people to get vaccinated (and get your COVID-19 booster) and follow the same protocol set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention if they’re concerned about exposure to COVID-19 or experience symptoms.

“For people who become symptomatic for COVID-19, the next steps would be the same whether you have the delta, omicron, or any other variant,” Murphy said. These include wearing a mask in crowded spaces, staying home if you’re sick, getting vaccinated, and contacting your doctor if you have symptoms, Passaretti added.

And if you find you’re coming down with some questionable symptoms, Murphy recommends tracking your symptoms and contacting your doctor ASAP. This helps avoid worsening symptoms and can get you the help you need.

“Keeping track of the day that you first started experiencing symptoms and then recording which symptoms you have on which day is very helpful for your doctor if you need to seek help,” Murphy said.

Do COVID-19 tests actually detect the omicron variant? Source link Do COVID-19 tests actually detect the omicron variant?

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