Do BA.5 COVID home tests work?

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BA.5, a mutation of the original omicron variant now responsible for nearly 80% of all current COVID-19 cases extremely contagious. It’s also the target of the booster shots that will likely be distributed to Americans this fall or winter, and likely the version of COVID-19 as well sick President Joe Biden Thursday.

But are they Rapid home tests we came to rely on it (and even got it delivered to our home) able to detect BA.5?

While it’s possible that new research could come out and prove that BA.5 makes some tests less effective at detecting positive COVID-19 cases, the rapid tests appear to be doing their job. Here’s what you should know.

How do COVID home tests work?

At-home COVID-19 tests are usually rapid antigen tests that work by identifying proteins in the coronavirus. If the proteins are present in your nose when you swab them, there will be a second line on your test and you should consider yourself positive and contagious with COVID-19. This is similar to how a home pregnancy test works, but pregnancy tests detect the presence of a hormone instead of a virus. (And pregnancy isn’t contagious, of course.)

“Positive results remain very accurate for these tests, although there can still be false negatives,” Shaili Gandh, vice president of pharmacy at SingleCare, said in an email. This is because a rapid test requires a higher amount of virus to test positive than the highly sensitive PCR or laboratory tests. For example, someone who is fully vaccinated and boosted may have a very low viral load (lower amount of virus) and that may mean they will test negative even if they have COVID-19. If so, you may need a lab-based PCR test before COVID-19 is confirmed. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a home test when boosted, but more on that below.)

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A young woman dips a nasal swab into a tube for a COVID test

Many of us are familiar with the swab, dip, swirl, and drip method of testing for COVID-19.

Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

Do home tests work against BA.5? When is the best time to test?

Research on BA.5 continues, which Gandh says includes how effectively tests can detect it. But how well the COVID-19 home tests work may have less to do with the subvariant and more to do with when you test.

You will most likely test positive for COVID-19 if you have symptoms. Similarly, people who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms are more likely to get a false negative than people with many symptoms.

“Under these conditions, home testing is just as effective at detecting omicron as other variants,” Sandra Adams, a professor of biology and virologist at Montclair State University, told New Jersey Advance Media.

“Accuracy varies depending on when testing is done,” she added.

Gandh said a “good rule of thumb” is to do at least two tests with a day or two between tests. You should also follow the directions on the packaging, which often comes as a pack of two tests, and keep up to date with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration extending the shelf life of some home tests.

And if home tests are found to be ineffective against BA.5, the FDA will revoke approval for that particular test.

“The FDA would know if there are performance concerns because they continue to monitor all approved tests and scientific evidence over a period of time in case they need to make changes,” said Dr. Mark Fischer, Regional Medical Director at International SOS in an email.

What is the incubation period of BA.5?

At the start of the Omicron surge last December, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its quarantine guidelines based on the understanding that people were most contagious for COVID-19 in the day or two before they developed symptoms , and two to three days after that.

While some research suggests BA.5 doesn’t have a different incubation period than other versions of COVID-19, some people report testing positive for longer, notes Gandh. dr Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, noted in a report earlier this month that changes in BA.5 that make it easier to enter cells could explain why some people take a long time to test negative.

“Right now, while this new variant is still elusive, I recommend testing it multiple times with home testing and if symptoms persist [and you’re still testing negative]get a PCR test from your pharmacy or doctor,” Gandh said.

And unfortunately, a positive result on a rapid home test means in all likelihood you have COVID-19. So consider yourself contagious and follow the CDC guidelines for isolation and masking.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions about a medical condition or health goals.

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