Corona: do rapid tests fail because of the delta variant??

The highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) are also increasingly being used in Germany. Experts such as RKI President Lothar Wieler and SPD politician Karl Lauterbach believe that it could have become established in Europe and also in Germany by the fall. But it is the detection of the new mutation that some see as a key problem – because many infected people show no symptoms.

Other researchers, on the other hand, ame that delta is particularly easy to detect, because the Viral load is higher than that of the original variant of the coronavirus. Read about the role of rapid tests in our overview.

Can rapid tests detect the delta variant??

"It's hard to say," says laboratory physician Matthias Orth. The Stuttgart-based company emphasizes: "The rapid tests were developed for symptomatic infections. Around 80 percent of the infections detected. Only 40 percent of infections are detected in non-symptomatic people."At the moment, however, mainly asymptomatic people are tested – after all, the incidences are extremely low," he says. Only in the case of a very high viral load is a positive result obtained.

Poor sample collection massively reduces the probability of positive results, says Orth. Worst of all: if someone tests himself and takes the sample incorrectly, uses an inferior test cartridge and the external conditions (heat or cold) are unfavorable.

What follows?

"We currently miss more than half of infected people with this," says Matthias Orth. That would apply not only to the delta variant, but to others as well Mutations of the virus. Orth makes a calculation: For purely statistical reasons, the test manufacturers would not be able to prove how high the detection of the individual virus variants is. There is also a problem, he said: the rapid tests were all developed on the fly about three quarters of a year ago, during phase 2 of the pandemic. "At that time, there was the delta variant and others not at all," Orth emphasizes.

Is there an improvement now??

Hardly. For the manufacturers of Rapid tests a revision of their products is unattractive. Last year, the rapid tests were launched on the market in a rush, and the usual external testing was dropped. Matthias Orth shakes his head. "It was enough for the manufacturers to affirm that they had produced very good tests. No one wanted to make testing too difficult," he recalls.


Test instructions were sometimes translated with Google Translate. "You'll get a laughing fit when you see that. This whole admission procedure is a sad affair," says Orth, who is chief physician at Stuttgart's Marienhospital.

Is it true that the delta virus variant can be detected mainly in the throat and not in the nose??

It is not possible to say that unequivocally. In order to clarify where most of the viruses are located, one would have to run through various scenarios. "You would have to find several unvaccinated people over 80 years old with a delta infection and compare those with the infection of younger patients," says laboratory physician Orth. The goal would be to detect: Where has the Virus primarily located – in the throat or nose? Then you'd have to find out if it's because of the age of the patients, the virus variant, or even the test form used.

Can PCR tests help detect delta??

In any case, says Matthias Orth. PCR tests also reliably detect viral mutations. "From that point of view, the rapid tests are actually wasted money – a huge expense with little benefit. In fact, we should return to the strategy of increasing the use of the PCR tests to carry out – even if their evaluation takes a little longer," says Orth.Max Planck Institute: Rapid tests help especially with Delta

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Gottingen came to a different conclusion than Orth: Due to the higher viral load in a delta infection, the disease could possibly be particularly easy to detect with the help of a rapid antigen test, "Spiegel" reports on the study, which has not yet been published.

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach has a similar assessment of the effect of the rapid tests: "Since the delta variant carries a high viral load, it can be identified very well by the current rapid tests. This can detect super-spreaders in particular."

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