Do current COVID-19 tests still detect Omicrons?

While there is no case new coronavirus variant, Omicron, has been reported in the US, it is only a matter of time. In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser on COVID-19 to President Biden, said it was likely the virus was already in the country, with levels of ongoing travel between countries as pandemic restrictions have begun to be lifted in recent months.

Even if the variant is here, can existing tests tell if someone is infected? Test experts say yes and no. Most tests used by public and commercial health laboratories can detect SARS-CoV-2, but they cannot confirm which version of the virus. That’s because the tests intentionally target parts of the virus that haven’t changed much. Variants are assigned based on differences in mutations — in Omicron’s case, specifically those in mutant proteins, the part of the virus that frequently changes to overcome drugs and immune cells. , so it is difficult to test. So most of the tests available will tell if a person has the virus – but there’s no way to tell if the virus is Omicron.
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To do that, your doctor will have to send your sample to a lab where it can then sequence your genes to look for genetic markers unique to Omicron.

There is a commercial test, from Thermo Fisher Scientific, that can perform two processes: both detect the presence of the virus and provide the tester that what they are dealing with may be a variant. Omicron. The company’s test targeted three different parts of SARS-CoV-2: two relatively stable regions and a more spike protein. It turns out that Omicron will show positive matches on two more stable regions, a pattern similar to the one from the Alpha variant, but will show a mismatch on the mutant protein fraction.

NS Delta variant, which is currently responsible for almost 99% of new cases around the world, does not share this shortcoming and creates a match of three across all three regions targeted by Thermo Fisher’s PCR test . That means, with Delta dominance, if a sample produces all three matches, it’s probably Delta; if the result is only two positives, it is likely Omicron. For confirmation, the researchers could then submit those samples for sequencing to definitively search Omicron’s genetic profile.

“It is a blessing that this model is able to mark the presence of Omicron,” said Mark Stevenson, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Thermo Fisher. “It’s a good early warning system.” Customers using the company’s test in South Africa warned Thermo Fisher last Wednesday that they were seeing those unusual patterns, even before the country’s health officials announced it. about the outbreak of new cases. Stevenson hopes that public health laboratories in Europe and the US are also now using the test to look for the first cases of the Omicron variant.

At Qiagen, a global testing company that performs tests for both diagnostic and research purposes, the team immediately evaluated their test against Omicron’s genetic sequence samples. made available to the public by public health professionals. GISAID database. “We don’t see a drop in performance in our products,” said Dr Davide Manissero, medical director at Qiagen.

Similarly, the team at diagnostic testing company BD ran tests on their COVID-19 test using the Omicron sequencing in GISAID. “We are confident that our rapid PCR and antigen tests for COVID-19 will detect the new variant,” said Dave Hickey, president of BD Life Sciences.

If you like to rely on home test available over-the-counter in pharmacies that can provide results in minutes, those results are still useful, at least to let you know if you can be positive. Like most PCR tests, at-home kits cannot specifically determine if someone is infected with the Omicron variant, but they will turn positive for anyone infected with any version of the virus. any.

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