By Peter Hunt, for APRA, Aug. 12, 2020.
Working on the front lines as an emergency room doctor, it isn’t a matter of if you will become infected with COVID but when.
An ER physician at Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford Florida had a slight fever on and off for a week. Fearing COVID, he had himself tested for the disease. The results came back negative. He had two more tests done. They were also negative. He had chest x-rays taken twice, which were normal. Believing he didn’t have the disease he continued to treat patients until a fourth COVID test came back positive.
Inaccurate COVID tests are potentially putting millions of people at risk. According to Dr. Shira Doron, infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, there are three types of coronavirus tests being done:
- PCR tests, which look for genetic components of the virus;
- Antigen tests, which look for protein components; and,
- Antibody tests, which are blood tests that look to see if you have had the virus and developed immunities.
Most people receive either a PCR or antigen test. The antigen test can be done quickly with a nasal or saliva swab, and the turnaround time for results is faster than many PCR tests. But they have a false negative rate up to 40-50%, and they can also produce false positives. Accuracy is an issue for PCR tests, depending on its type and manufacturer. Some PCR tests have been found to miss positive cases 30% of the time.
Many patients don’t know what type of coronavirus test they’re taking. Doron says it’s important to know and patients should ask, especially if it’s a test is related to an urgent health care issue.