By Nicole Nielsen

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The CDC says that coronaviruses are named for their crown-like spikes on their surfaces.

But as COVID-19 has replicated there have been small changes in those spike proteins.

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“Every time they infect a cell to produce more virus their genetic material has to replicate many times and they make a lot of errors in that replication,” said Dr. Scott Weaver, the director at the Institute for Human Infections & Immunity at UTMB.

The CDC says scientists are monitoring changes in the virus, including these spike proteins, which show how it spreads and what happens to those infected.

They believe it’s those slight changes in form that make the variant B.1.1.7 that was first found in the U.K. latch more easily to your cells.

“The spike protein is the one that has to bind to the surface of our cells,” said Dr. Weaver. “That’s likely part of the explanation for these new variants that spread more readily. They can infect us more efficiently.”

Because of its unique structure, it’s not only statistically believed to be 70% more contagious, but also less detectable.

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The FDA has since released a warning to beware for false negative COVID-19 tests.

“Some of the tests that we are currently using are a little less sensitive,” said Dr. Diana Cervantes, with the school of public health at the UNT Health Science Center.

Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang says the case found in Dallas was a sort of lucky find after some tests were sent off to a special lab.

“There are some other specialty labs that are able to do that sequencing, so that was what happened with this. But not every test is tested for that,” Dr. Huang said.

Experts worry that these false negative test results may spread the variant further, if people aren’t careful.

“You don’t want to rely 100%, on any type of diagnostic test. So if somebody comes in with signs and symptoms or they’ve had an exposure, and it comes up negative, then a clinician needs to question and do additional testing,” Dr. Cervantes said.

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Nicole Nielsen