Can RT-PCR tests detect Omicron variant infection?


    The coronavirus’ Omicron variant has emerged as a big threat with the World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday assessing a “very high” global risk. Preliminary data suggests that the variant could have higher transmissibility, and also a greater ability to evade immune response generated through prior infection or vaccines.

    Timely detection of the variant is, as a result, key to checking its spread. The WHO said one positive about the variant is that it could be detected by some RT-PCR tests being used across the world, unlike other variants whose presence can only be determined after genetic sequencing. This can speed up detection and help control the spread.

    However, this is not straightforward, scientists told The Indian Express. Most RT-PCR tests used in India might not be able to distinguish between the Omicron and other variants.

    How a ‘miss’ by RT-PCR helps
    RT-PCR tests can only confirm infections and are not designed to determine the variant causing the infection. To determine that, a genome sequencing study needs to be done.

    However, not all infected samples undergo genome sequencing as it is a slow, complicated, and expensive process. Only a small subset of positive samples — about 2-5% — is sent for gene analysis.

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