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Is There A Chance That PCR, Rapid Antigen, Or Lateral Flow Tests Might Not Detect Omicron?

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RT-PCR & Rapid Antigen Covid-19 Testing Phoenix Arizona

Although RT-PCR and Antigen tests are still reliable in detecting the new variant, saliva may be more effective than nose swabs in the first few days, as per the experts. 

Scientists discovered a “stealth” variant of Omicron when it began its global race last year. This variant had a genetic mutation, making it impossible for rapid PCR tests to distinguish it from other types. Rightly, there were concerns that Omicron may not be detected by available tests. There were anecdotal reports that individuals may repeatedly test negative for COVID-19 on home lateral flow tests (LFTs) but test positive on a PCR test. The good news is that Omicron and earlier variants can still be found using PCR and rapid antigen tests, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to American research, a nasal swab is 12 times less likely than saliva to yield a positive PCR result in the early stages of an infection. However, more viruses appeared to accumulate in the nose after three days.

But, the threat of Omicron is Still There! 

To combat the pandemic, accurate COVID-19 testing is still essential. The WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros cautioned earlier this month that although Omicron appears to have milder symptoms, the perception of this new variant as less dangerous could result in complacency. He noted that the virus continues to hospitalize and kill millions, which is causing hospitals to be completely overburdened. Vaccinations continue to be crucial, but not enough people worldwide have access to them.

Vaccinated individuals may also be shielded from less severe symptoms, but they can still spread the virus to others, who may be more susceptible and experience more severe illness.

Negative LFTs require confirmation.

False-negative results (lack of sensitivity) are more common with lateral flow tests than false-positive results (lack of specificity). According to a report published in 2021 by the UK Department of Health and Social Care, only three to four out of every 10,000 people would experience a false positive from lateral flow testing.

Contrarily, a negative lateral flow result offers much less assurance that you are not infected with COVID-19, and this is not true. You should get a PCR test if you are exhibiting symptoms.

In a similar vein, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that if a patient still exhibits symptoms despite a negative antigen test, they should confirm this result using a PCR test.

Nasal or Throat Swabs? Which One Would be Accurate? 

Saliva samples win against nasal swabs because Omicron tends to replicate more quickly in the upper respiratory tract. According to South African research, testing for Omicron using saliva may be more accurate (100% vs. 86%).

As Omicron has a shorter incubation period and the virus may manifest more in saliva in the first two to three days, this may, however, be true early in the infection. Saliva is 12 times more likely than a nasal swab to produce a positive PCR result in those early stages, according to research from the United States. However, more viruses appeared to accumulate in the nose after three days.

The best course of action at this time may be to repeat testing throughout the infection while validating negative LFTs or antigen tests with PCR testing if symptoms continue. Especially, if you are traveling to China, book a testing appointment now


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