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OSU assistant professor talks accuracy of at-home COVID-19 tests

Updated: Jan. 7, 2022 at 5:39 AM PST
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CORVALLIS, Ore. (KPTV) - Omicron continues to throw a wrench in the pandemic, with the Food and Drug Administration stating at-home rapid tests may be less sensitive when it comes to the variant.

“Today, you know, really what’s emerging and the evidence and some of the studies that we’re seeing is that Omicron actually results in a lower sensitivity of these antigen tests and that’s a real problem, obviously, if you’re testing yourself,” said Justin Sanders.

Sanders works at Oregon State University as an Assistant Professor, Senior Research in the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine.

“It turns out at this point, what we know, it’s not a matter of the virus, the test not recognizing the virus, but more where the virus is located,” he said. “So, Omicron appears to really infect tissues that are more lower than in the upper nasal passages.”

He said most at-home antigen tests, also known as rapid tests, require a nasal swab. Sanders said Omicron may be better detected in saliva.

FOX 12 asked Sanders if it’s worth people still using at-home tests.

“That’s a difficult call to make. I think that it is,” he said. “I think that more testing is always a good idea, but people really need to understand and their needs to be a really clear understanding that these tests are not going to prevent COVID.”

So, when should someone take an at-home test? Sanders said the best chance at getting an accurate result is to test once symptoms appear. He suggests holding off a bit until then.

“If you’ve been exposed, for example, to someone, a confirmed case of it, waiting a few days after that exposure can actually increase the sensitivity, the possibility of detecting it if you’re infected,” he said. “Serial testing, you know, if you test more frequently, the actual overall sensitivity is better for these types of tests, for any tests.”

Sanders said molecular tests, or PCR tests, are still the gold standard if you can get one.