Is the U.S. testing for new variants?

Multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants have emerged since the start of the pandemic, and experts, including the CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, have spoken about the urgency to vaccinate as many people as possible before more contagious variants of the virus can spread widely.

What is a variant?

Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), is constantly mutating as it moves through the population, causing new variants to emerge. Variants contain changes (mutations) in the virus’ RNA.  Most of these variants are inconsequential from a clinical perspective, though they’re useful for tracking the spread of the virus through the global population.

How does the virus changes?

Some mutations in the protein do have the potential to increase the ability of the virus to spread or cause more severe illness. Additionally, these mutations can allow the virus to evade protective antibodies induced by previous infection and/or vaccination and detection by testing methods. These are the variants that scientists are avidly tracking.

How do the variants respond to diagnostic testing?

The great news is that to date no mutation has curbed the accuracy of PCR tests that identify active COVID-19. That’s because our tests target the nucleocapsid protein of the virus, which is less prone to mutations as it must be faithfully copied from generation to generation for the virus to survive.

The sensitivity of our PCR test is not impacted by the variants.


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