COVID-19 Testing: Understanding False Positives and False Negatives

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of everyone around the world. Whether it’s working from home or dealing with travel and dining restrictions, public and private life have been greatly altered. This goes double for those who have contracted COVID-19 or know someone who has.

If you’ve been in close contact with someone or have flown anywhere over the past 18 months, you’ve probably taken a COVID-19 test. The most common type is known as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. PCR tests have been approved for emergency use and are widely deemed accurate and reliable. But they’re not perfect, and sometimes they produce false positive or false negative results.

How common are false positive COVID-19 tests? If you’d like to know how to get a reliable COVID-19 test result, read on for some helpful information.

Two types of tests

We’ve already touched on PCR tests, but we didn’t explain how they work. A PCR test uses a nasal swab to collect respiratory material within your body. That specimen is then taken to a lab and analyzed. The person conducting the test checks for the presence of genetic material of the virus SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. PCR tests are considered the gold standard of COVID-19, tests and can take as little as 24 hours to provide results.

The other type of COVID-19 test is called an antigen test. These are also known as rapid tests, because their results can come back in as little as 15 minutes. The test checks for specific protein fragments that would signify the presence of the coronavirus. These tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests, so a doctor may order a supplementary PCR test if you take an antigen test and test negative.

False negative test

A false negative COVID-19 test is when you have the virus in your system, but the test result says that you do not. There are several things that could cause this to happen. The most likely cause is that you have a low viral load in your system. The time between contracting COVID-19 and having symptoms present themselves can be anywhere from three to 14 days. So, if you’d like to know how to get a reliable COVID-19 test result, you should actually wait around three days after exposure before getting tested. This would likely improve your chances of an accurate test result.

False positive test

How common are false positive COVID-19 tests? Not very. A false positive test occurs when you test positive for COVID-19 but don’t really have the virus. This can happen due to a few factors. You may have a different coronavirus in your body, and that could have shown up on the test. Your test sample could have become tainted while it was being processed (this happens more often with rapid tests), or errors could have been made while handling or storing your test sample. If you’ve had COVID-19 already and recovered, it’s possible that you could test positive without being currently actively infected with the virus.

Call for your pharmaceutical needs today

If you need infusion-based pharmaceuticals, give us a call at Chemique Pharmaceuticals, Inc. We’ve been an industry leader in IVs, infusions and therapies since 1985, and we’d be happy to discuss our wide variety of services with you.