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Are rapid covid tests accurate?

The FDA says several rapid tests have shown false negatives.

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — It's much easier to take a home covid rapid test than wait in line for one, but are they accurate?

The FDA says some rapid tests showed false negatives. How does this happen?

FDA Misson

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for protecting public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.

FDA also has responsibility for regulating the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of tobacco products to protect public health and to reduce tobacco use by minors.

FDA is responsible for advancing public health by helping to speed innovations that make medical products more effective, safer, and more affordable and by helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medical products and foods to maintain and improve their health.

FDA also plays a significant role in the Nation's counterterrorism capability. FDA fulfills this responsibility by ensuring the security of the food supply and by fostering the development of medical products to respond to deliberate and naturally emerging public health threats.

PCR vs. Antigen COVID test

Government recommendations for using at-home tests haven't changed. People should continue to use them when a quick result is important.

“The bottom line is the tests still detect COVID-19 whether it is delta or alpha or omicron,” says Dr. Emily Volk, president of the College of American Pathologists.

But they may have reduced sensitivity to the omicron variant.

A PCR test, considered the "gold standard" of testing, can detect the genetic makeup of covid. The antigen test, more commonly known as the "rapid test", only recognizes the specific proteins that the omicron variant may not have. So, if you were to have the omicron variant, the rapid test may be less likely to recognize it.

Dr. Finn from Georgia Tech best describes this with his "cup scenario":

"Variants can alter those proteins. If it changes this specific protein that test was designed for you, can get a false negative. So I grab on to this coffee cup. If the coffee cup were to change shape, become a mug and my hands were too small, I might not be able to grab it as well. And that's it in essence,".

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