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COVID-19 tests can spot variants, lab companies insist

Topic: COVID-19 tests can spot variants, lab companies insist

As public health officials warn that the new COVID-19 variant originating in the U.K. could become dominant across the U.S. by March, the nation’s largest testing companies and laboratories say their coronavirus tests are prepared to accurately identify new virus strains as they emerge.

Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp., two of the biggest test processing labs in the U.S., say they haven’t reported any changes to the accuracy of their testing data with false negatives from the new U.K. coronavirus variant.

Abbott, a U.S. medical device and health care company that produced rapid tests purchased in large numbers by the federal government, said its BinaxNOW tests are still working as promised.

“We’ve continued to track these new variants as they emerge,” Dr. Mary Rodgers, principal scientist and head of infectious disease research at Abbott, told ABC News. “We’ve been bringing in samples to confirm our prediction based on the sequences, which indicate that there’s no cause for concern for any of our Abbott tests.”

The insistence by testing companies that their products are still working as hoped comes amid reports that the virus has mutated in countries where it spread widely. Three variants originating in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil have been documented in the U.S. and raised concerns that as the virus continues to mutate, that the nation’s current arsenal of tests to detect the virus might become less effective.

In January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a notice to health care providers warning that the potential of future strains impacting testing accuracy is still possible. The letter said that variants could lead to false negatives in PCR tests and that tests designed to “detect multiple SARS-CoV-2 genetic targets are less susceptible.”

Public health experts argue that such concerns from the federal government are legitimate and should compel testing companies to continue evaluating whether their tests are able to detect variants that are not yet on their radar.

In a statement on the new coronavirus strains, Abbott also said, “it is highly likely that future COVID-19 strains will remain detectable because we design our tests to be robust, knowing that virus mutations will naturally occur over time.”

The type of test seems to matter when it comes to the variants. While medical experts agree that many viral tests are currently able to detect the new coronavirus variants, antibody tests are not. Viral tests determine if a person is currently infected with the virus, whereas antibody tests can suggest whether a person was previously infected.

Topic Discussed: COVID-19 tests can spot variants, lab companies insist

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