NOTE: Federal guidance has not changed on how to test for COVID, and all test kits have specific FDA-approved instructions on how they should be used.
Could the omicron variant lead to a change in the way we test for COVID?
Some medical experts say that with the increase in sore throat symptoms associated with the omicron variant, adding a throat swab, in addition to nasal swabbing, could lead to more accurate test results.
“When you do the rapid tests at home, in addition to swabbing your nose, you should also swab the back of your throat because we’ve seen some cases where people who do the regular nasal swab test negative,” Dr. Michael Daignault, an ER physician and Chief Medical Advisor for Reliant Health Services, told NBC 5 Tuesday. “But then I’ve had some doctor friends who started swabbing the backs of throats, and they’re finding that’s positive.”
Some doctors, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor and the top U.S. infectious disease expert, have cautioned that not all at-home antigen tests may be able to adequately detect the omicron variant.
It’s a message Illinois’ top doctor, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, echoed last month.
“There are some commercially available tests that won’t detect omicron,” she said. “But we have to remember that those rapid antigen test, they’re not 100%. So if you have symptoms and have a negative test I would still be very cautious.”
Preliminary research by the the Food and Drug Administration, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics program, found that rapid antigen tests may be less sensitive at detecting the highly contagious omicron variant and could lead to results that are “false negative.”
The research used samples from patients confirmed to be infected with the omicron strain of the virus to study the performance of at-home tests, also known as “antigen” tests.
The agency said early data suggests that antigen tests “do detect the omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity,” meaning it’s possible such tests could miss an infection.
Rapid antigen tests, which work by detecting surface proteins of the coronavirus, are relatively inexpensive and quick, with results known in around 15 minutes. They can, however, miss the early stages of COVID-19 infection. Most popular at-home tests advise users to take two tests on separate days to ensure more accurate results.
But Daignault said he believes some of the common symptoms with omicron could play a role.
“I think that’s because the omicron variant, we’ve seen that it’s causing sore throat and nasal congestion, and so if you miss a good sample from the nose and you swab the back of your throat, it increases the accuracy of the test,” he said. “And so I think that’s something that people should start doing – swab both sides of the nose and the back of the throat, especially with omicron being more prevalent.”
Daignault noted that the swabs should be taken using the same test.
“What I’m recommending is you take that single swab from that single test and you just swab multiple areas just to increase the overall yield of potential tissue that you’re testing,” he said.
The recommendation echoes a recent social media trend on Twitter referred to as #SwabYourThroat, which saw users, including a University College London biologist, reporting negative nasal swab tests, but positive results after adding a throat swab.
Multiple experts have reported sore throats and cold-like symptoms associated with the newest coronavirus variant.
Dr. Katherine Poehling, an infectious disease specialist and member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, told NBC News last month that a cough, congestion, runny nose and fatigue appear to be prominent symptoms with the omicron variant. But unlike delta, many patients are not losing their taste or smell.
The evidence so far, according to Poehling, is anecdotal and not based on scientific research. She noted also that these symptoms may only reflect certain populations.
Still, CDC data showed the most common symptoms so far are cough, fatigue, congestion and a runny nose.
In New York, where cases continue to surge, an ER doctor who became known on social media during the pandemic for his documentation of the battle against COVID, reported breakthrough cases he has seen in those with booster shots experienced “mild” symptoms.
“By mild I mean mostly sore throat. Lots of sore throat,” Craig Spencer wrote on Twitter. “Also some fatigue, maybe some muscle pain. No…