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COVID testing in the wake of new variants

  • The author of this article is Dr. Srinivas Neela, Director & CEO, BookMyDiagnostic

Since the emergence of new coronaviruses, scientists and medical professionals have achieved significant advances in COVID testing and diagnoses. Although the number of coronavirus infections continues to rise throughout the world, rapid and immediate testing can provide valuable information on positivity and help prevent the spread of the virus.

Types of Covid testing

A viral test confirms the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. There are broadly two types of viral tests: rapid tests and laboratory tests. Viral tests use samples from nose or throat swabs. The saliva and fluid within the nasal passages are utilised to detect the presence of viruses in the body. Rapid tests can be performed in minutes and can include antigen and some NAATs. Laboratory tests can take days to complete and include RT-PCR and other types of NAATs.

Experts emphasise the increased demand for at-home testing kits amid rising concerns surrounding the new coronavirus subtype, Omicron. While it is a blessing in disguise, there is still debate over its accuracy, usability, and whether or not it can identify the new variety. Self-tests are rapid tests that can be taken at home or anywhere. They are easy to use and produce rapid results. COVID-19 self-tests are one of many risk-reduction measures, along with vaccination, masking, and physical distancing, that helps reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19. An antibody test (also known as a serology test) can detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in the bloodstream. Antibodies are proteins that the immune system produces to help fight the infection and create protection against sickness.

Rise of Rapid At-home testing

Rapid at-home testing, according to health experts, is an excellent tool for detecting the SARs-COV-2 virus in a short amount of time. It is not only quick to give results but it has also been shown to be efficient up to this point. While self-COVID tests may lag behind molecular or PCR testing in terms of accuracy, given that they yield findings in as little as 15 minutes, they are a very valuable testing option.

The reason why RT PCR tests take so long to give findings is that they go through a number of specialised, often costly diagnostic processes to get results. Quick antigen tests, on the other hand, check for the protein or molecules located on the virus’s surface, which allows the results to be easily validated at a rapid speed. While antigen tests are quick to produce findings and inexpensive, they are not perfect. This implies that there is a chance that quick antigen testing will produce incorrect findings.

As easy as at-home antigen testing may appear, the likelihood of a false positive or negative result is substantially higher with fast tests than with PCR tests. One main reason for this is that the antigen test only looks at the protein portion of the viral RNA and not the whole virus RNA. To avoid any diagnostic errors, it is critical to do a backup test, ideally an RT PCR test.

Home testing to counter the spread of 3rd Wave

The Omicron variant has wreaked a lot of havoc in and around the world. Amid the rising number of cases, the demands for at-home test kits have shot up. However, whether antigen tests can detect the new variant is yet to be seen.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a recent update said that the rapid tests can detect coronavirus infections irrespective of whether or not it is caused by new variants, be it Alpha, Beta, Delta or the Omicron. However, the public health agency specified that the tests may have reduced sensitivity when it comes to detecting the Omicron variant. At the moment, the likelihood of at-home coronavirus testing detecting the Omicron strain is low. Regardless, COVID tests continue to be useful since they can detect COVID-19 infections regardless of variation. Despite the fact that PCR testing is regarded to be the most reliable method of diagnosing COVID-19, many people rely on quick antigen tests for convenient and faster results.

Viruses are continually changing due to mutation, and these changes might result in a new form of the virus. Some varieties exist and then fade, while others survive. New variants will appear in the future. The Delta version of the virus that causes COVID-19 infects more people and spreads quicker than the initial SARS-CoV-2 strain. New viral variants are predicted to emerge in the coming future. The greatest way to delay the formation of new variations is to take actions to reduce the transmission of infection, such as the COVID-19 vaccines. These COVID-19 vaccines help minimise the risk of severe illness, hospitalisation, and death. In response to an increase in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the 3rd wave, health officials have advocated the use of home test kits along with the regular RT-PCR testings.

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