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Do at-home test kits pick up all coronavirus variants?

For a time, BA.2 was not picked up earning the nickname "Stealth Omicron"

SAN ANTONIO — BA.2 is the latest variant to cause a surge in cases and Europe and is expected to do the same here in the U.S. But there has been concern that the variant wouldn't be picked up by at home tests as easily as the original virus. 

It has to do with what the tests specifically look for to determine what strain you may have. But as the virus mutates what the tests pick up also changes. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Jason Bowling from University Health told us, "This one PCR platform is pretty widely used nationally, uses three targets and in Omicron had an S target an E target and N target. They all stand for something, so spike, envelope, nucleocapsid." 

All three were detected in Delta, but when Omicron first came out, or BA.1, the test didn't detect the spike target, so it was easy to figure out what was Omicron and what was Delta. But over time the virus mutated again, and tests would pick up the spike target making it look like Delta, earning the nickname, "Stealth Omicron." Dr. Bowling added, "What's happened since then is that Delta has basically done away, and so then it was Omicron. And now if all three light up, it's this two, so it's no longer stealthy."  

Dr. Fred Campbell, an Associated Professor of Medicine with UT Health San Antonio told us, "Those home tests have continued to be reliable across several different strains, so I have very little concern at this particular time about those tests."  

"The CDC says In the U.S. the BA.2 variant caused 35 percent of the cases last week, which is a jump from 22 percent the week before. But in the UK the variant accounts for 85 percent of new infections, which is 20 percent higher from the week before. Should we expect the same surge here? Dr. Campbell said, "I wouldn't be surprised if new cases of COVID-19 increase just because of the extremely increased transmissibility transmissibility of Omicron and all of it's variants."

Both doctors say vaccines and the booster are still the best way to protect yourself. And if you have any symptoms that could overlap with the flu which is hitting us late this year, like a high fever, shortness of breath, or chest pain, get to the doctor to find out what you've got so you can be treated properly.