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Scientists recommend PCR testing to diagnose COVID-19 reliably

In an already complicated situation of testing and treatments available for people infected with COVID-19, the emergence of the Omicron variant has added further complexity. Although Omicron is now known to be less infective than prior variants, its remarkably unique biology makes it 160-200% more transmissible than other variants. Omicron also replicates itself very quickly in the body, as it only takes approximately three days to produce symptoms after infection compared to more than four days with the Delta variant.

This combination of distinctive traits provided by Omicron has prompted scientists to rethink the testing strategies to formulate a reliable surveillance program and develop more effective and reliable testing methods to catch it on time.

Until Omicron’s emergence, rapid antigenic tests were considered quite good in determining whether a person can infect others. However, Omicron’s complex biology has resulted in many false-negative results, mainly in the first two days of infection. Although in situations where the rapid antigen tests failed, the PCR test successfully diagnosed infections. Because studies demonstrated that the people with negative rapid antigen tests were still spreading the virus to others, scientists recommend using PCR tests whenever feasible to diagnose COVID-19 promptly and reliably.

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