Stealth version of Omicron avoids detection on PCR tests

As Omicron becomes more and more prevalent in the world. Scientists have continued with their research. It seems that there is also a stealth version of Omicron which avoids detection on PCR tests.

Scientists have discovered a “stealth version of Omicron which cannot be distinguished from other variants using the PCR tests that public health officials deploy to gain a quick picture of its spread around the world”, scientists have said.

The stealth variant has many mutations in common with standard Omicron, but it lacks a particular genetic change that allows lab-based PCR tests to be used. It has a specific deletion of a genome which means it cannot be detected. Let’s call the new Omicron variant BA.1, and the stealth version of Omicron BA.2 “There are two lineages within Omicron, BA.1 and BA.2, that are quite differentiated genetically, the two lineages may behave differently.”

The variant is still detected as coronavirus by blood tests and can be identified as the Omicron variant through genomic testing, but the PCR test that gives a quicker result is unable to detect the stealth version of Omicron BA.2. This means that many people who contract this version will escape detection and will transmit it to whoever they are in contact with until they show symptoms and require further hospital testing.

Researchers say “it is too early to know whether the new form of Omicron will spread in the same way as the standard Omicron variant, but that the stealth version of Omicron is genetically distinct and so may well behave differently”.

The timing of this discovery came at an impeccable moment. The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, was announcing that Omicron appeared more transmissible and it was quite likely that further restrictions would be needed. If the science proves true and Omicron is two separate strains of the same virus, these restrictions will more than likely be put into place sooner rather than later.

The UK Health Security Agency said “a further 101 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant had been reported in the UK on Tuesday. This brings the total number of UK cases to 437. Of the 101 new cases, one was confirmed in Wales while there have been no new cases reported in Northern Ireland”.


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Written by

Natalie Williams

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