Can rapid antigen tests successfully detect new Covid variants? Study answers

Researchers say that antigen test performance needs to be reevaluated for emerging variants
With periodic surges in Covid-19 cases across the globe, the rapid antigen tests continue to remain a useful tool for many. However, due to the emergence of new variants, their efficacy to detect the virus may have been diminished, a new study has found. 
Published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, the study notes that as the rapid tests were developed for use with the original SARS-CoV-2 viral strain that emerged late in 2019, it is possible that they may not remain sensitive to the new and more infectious variants. 
The conclusion was reached after scientists at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in the US used live virus culture to assess how well four rapid antigen tests are able to detect these Covid-19 variants of concern.
Using three strains of cultured live virus, the team assessed differences in the limits of detection (LoD) – the smallest amount of viral antigen detectable at 95% certainty – of four commercially available rapid antigen tests; the Binax, CareStart, GenBody and LumiraDx tests.
The researchers found that all four tests were as sensitive to the Omicron variant, if not more, as they were to the original SARS-CoV-2 viral strain, known as WA1.
However, three tests showed less sensitivity to the Delta strain, with only the CareStart demonstrating equal detection of all three strains, they said.
“We expect that the observed loss in Delta sensitivity could have resulted in a 20% or more loss of detection in potentially infectious individuals – nevertheless, the most infectious individuals still should have been detected,” said Kirby, also a professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School.
“However, our findings suggest that antigen test performance needs to be reevaluated for emerging variants to ensure they still meet the intended public health testing goals of the pandemic,” he added.
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