Although Omicron has seemingly milder symptoms, the perception of this new variant as less dangerous could lead to complacency, warned WHO Director-General Dr Tedros, who pointed out earlier this month that the virus still hospitalises and kills millions, which is leading to hospitals being utterly overwhelmed. Vaccination remains hugely important, and still not enough people have access to vaccines worldwide.
PCR and antigen tests are still reliable in detecting the new variant, although in the first few days saliva could be better than nose swabs at picking up the virus.
When Omicron started racing around the world last December, scientists reported finding a ‘stealth’ version of the variant that had a genetic mutation, meaning it couldn’t be differentiated from other variants by rapid PCR tests. That, coupled with anecdotal reports that people might repeatedly test negative for COVID-19 on home lateral flow tests (LFTs) but test positive on a PCR test, has raised concerns that Omicron may not be picked up by available tests. The good news is that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), PCR and rapid antigen tests can still detect Omicron as well as previous variants.
Research from the USA suggests that in the early days of infection saliva is 12 times more likely to give a positive PCR result than a nasal swab. After three days however, more virus seemed to build up in the nose.
Since Omicron tends to replicate more quickly in the upper respiratory tract, some scientists have been calling for saliva samples to be tested rather than nasal swabs. Research from South Africa indicates that saliva may be more accurate to test for Omicron than nasal swabs (100% v 86%).
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When to complete a Rapid Antigen Test
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It’s very important that you refrain from eating, drinking, smoking or vaping or brushing your teeth for a minimum of 30 minutes before taking the test.