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Call-Out: Keeping Up with the COVID-19 Variants

All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, gradually evolve over time. Even these subtle changes to the virus may result in increased transmissibility, greater disease severity and can impact the performance of vaccines and diagnostic tools.

Despite the wide availability of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, it remains to be seen whether they can detect emerging variants. In fact, scientists have observed differences in the sensitivity of these rapid tests to detect the Delta and Omicron variants compared to the original SARS-CoV-2 strain.

In response to the evolving SARS-CoV-2 virus, researchers at the University of Texas have created a COVID-19 rapid antigen test, termed CoVarScan, that can detect which variant a person has within a few hours. CoVarScan analyzes eight regions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to detect small mutations, which differ depending on the variant. This test is considerably cheaper and faster than the current variant detection method yet has similar accuracy.

Despite the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, tests such as CoVarScan can be used as a potential surveillance tool to help scientists determine which variants are circulating in a community and for early variant detection.

- Andrea Brumwell


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