Understanding the Accuracy of Rapid Home Tests for Covid-19 and the Impact of New Variants

Understanding the Accuracy of Rapid Home Tests for Covid-19 and the Impact of New Variants

2023-09-22 10:59:04
## Home COVID-19 Tests May Have Difficulty Detecting New Variants, Social Media Users Speculate

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – With coronavirus cases rising across the United States, many people are again relying on home tests to guide their decisions about going to work, sending their children to school, and other activities. However, there is growing concern that these tests may have lost their ability to detect some new variants of the coronavirus, leading to speculation on social media.

Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist and epidemiologist, and chief science officer at eMed Healthcare, acknowledged the speculation, stating, “Every time a new variant appears, I notice the same dialectic of conversation across the ‘X’ platform (formerly Twitter).” Mina, who was an early proponent of selling rapid lateral flow tests to the public, explained that there are reasons why someone might test negative even when they have COVID-19. However, Todd Mirzak, who co-led the RADx program at the US National Institutes of Health, reassured the public that the tests can still detect the infection.

The reason COVID-19 tests can work even when other tools, such as vaccines and monoclonal antibodies, fail is that the vaccines and antibodies target the spike proteins of the virus, which are prone to change. On the other hand, most rapid tests target the nucleocapsid proteins, or “N protein,” which do not change as much as spike proteins. This is why the tests are less affected by new variants.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Control (CDC) recommended that people undergo rapid testing five days after a known exposure to the virus. Dr. Mina explained, “If you look at the kinetic properties of viruses, it usually takes 3, 4, or 5 days on average for the virus to go from low levels to a level sufficient to be detected by any test.” He confirmed that the presence of new variants has not changed this timeframe.

Dr. Mina further explained that the variants copy themselves slightly faster in the body, prompting the immune system to respond more quickly and people to develop symptoms faster than before. This may lead to early testing to detect the infection before the virus can build enough copies for tests to detect them, creating a bias due to easy access to home tests.

To improve accuracy, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety statement advising anyone who received a negative result after a home test to repeat it within 48 hours. This advice came from a government-funded study conducted by researchers from the University of Massachusetts. The study found that rapid home tests were more accurate in detecting infection in people who had symptoms. When the rapid test was repeated two days later, it detected symptomatic infection in about 90% of cases.

In conclusion, while there may be concerns about the ability of home tests to detect new variants, they still remain an important tool to guide individuals’ decisions. Repeated testing can improve accuracy, especially if individuals have symptoms.]
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