Can rapid COVID tests detect contagiousness amid new variants?

The alarming spread of omicron sub-variants, in particular BA.5, which has rapidly become the dominant coronavirus strain in the US, has again highlighted how well rapid COVID-19 antigen tests work at this stage of the pandemic.

Weather some preliminary research and anecdotes have suggested home test kits may not be as good at detecting omicron’s sneaky subvariants, Bay Area infectious disease experts say rapid antigen tests remain an effective way to diagnose infections.

But they add that variants like BA.5 only highlight the importance of using rapid antigen tests as effectively as possible to avoid a false-negative result.

Additionally, experts say it remains true that while rapid tests are quicker and easier than PCR tests, they are also less sensitive and therefore more prone to inaccurate results.

That problem has been magnified by this summer’s surge, during which some people with COVID-19 symptoms reported initially testing negative, Stanford virologist Robert Siegel said.

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