The spread of the Omicron variant, which is racing through the population at a staggering speed, has brought renewed focus to the value and reliability of the at-home lateral flow test (LFT).
These rapid testing devices were initially viewed with caution by some scientists, who were concerned that the LFTs simply weren’t effective enough in detecting infections.
But as more data has accumulated over the past year, the consensus around the devices has shifted and become far more positive.
Research from University College London, published in October, suggested that LFTs are likely to be more than 80 per cent effective at detecting Covid, and up to 90 per cent effective for those who are most infectious.
However, the emergence of Omicron has changed the conversation. Its rapid acceleration throughout the UK, with more than a million infections expected by next week, has placed the country’s key testing routes – both at-home (LFT) and lab-based (PCR) – under immense strain.
“Testing capacity will almost certainly fail to keep up with Omicron,” said Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. “Even with best efforts we can scale supply linearly, but demand will grow exponentially.”
Experts have called on the government to temporarily drop the reliance on PCR lab testing, which typically takes 24 hours or more to return a result but is seen as more reliable, in favour of the lateral flow devices. These can be taken from the comfort of your own home and give a result in a matter of minutes.
“LFT will be good enough, especially on people showing symptoms,” said Alan McNally, a professor of microbial evolutionary genomics at Birmingham University.
Read full story
Source: The Independent, 17 December 2021