WEDNESDAY, Jan. 12, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Countering earlier concerns, a real-world study shows that a widely used at-home COVID-19 test called BinaxNOW is as effective at detecting omicron as other coronavirus variants.

The study of the Abbot rapid antigen test included more than 700 people who visited a walk-up testing site in San Francisco. The test detected 65 percent of infections caught by more sensitive polymerase chain reaction tests, but pinpointed 95 percent of people with the highest levels of the virus. Among those with high levels of the virus, the test identified 98 percent of those with symptoms and 90 percent of those without symptoms. The results are about the same as those found in real-world studies before omicron emerged, according to the researchers.

The test is “working as it was designed,” study author Joseph DeRisi, Ph.D., a biochemist at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times. “There does not seem to be any performance deficit with omicron.”

Some earlier preliminary studies had raised questions about whether rapid antigen tests might be less sensitive to omicron than other variants. Scientists are still trying to determine how well at-home tests work for omicron, Janet Woodcock, M.D., acting commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Tuesday during a Senate hearing on the federal COVID-19 response, The Times reported. “We believe all of them detect omicron,” she said. “We simply feel they are somewhat less sensitive than they were to some of the previous variants.”

But the new research, done with nasal swabs, does not address how early in an infection the rapid tests can spot the variant or whether they would perform better with saliva samples. Also, the BinaxNOW results cannot be extrapolated to other rapid tests, which must be evaluated individually, the researchers noted.

The study was posted on a preprint server online and has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The New York Times Article

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