Patients receive false-negative COVID-19 results amidst increased testing


SUMNER COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – While Greg Miller, the Chief of Sumner County Emergency Medical Services, hasn’t seen it personally, he’s heard of patients receiving a false negative COVID-19 result in Middle Tennessee.

“It’s going to be hard to determine if it was a false test result if it was an inaccurate test, or the patient was still in that incubation period and they weren’t to the point where they had enough virus in their body to test positive,” explained Miller.

Drive-through testing centers have made it easier for people to be assessed. Most tests involve a medical professional collecting nasal secretions from far back in the nose.

“With the current test, it actually looks for the RNA from the virus in the sample. It checks for how much RNA is in the sample and it’s a sensitive test. It really is good at detecting the virus,” said Dr. Kathryn Edwards a Doctor and Professor at Vanderbilt.

These tests are shipped to labs across the country yielding results in 5-7 days, which Edwards explains can be a problem, “We really need to know the answers right away.”

In an effort to speed up the process, what’s known at the rapid point of care tests are being implemented. Results are available in just 5 minutes.

“In general, that test isn’t quite as sensitive as the other test that takes more time,” warned Edwards.

The CDC recognizes the disparity stating on a patient fact sheet:

“It is possible for this test to give a negative result that is incorrect (false negative) in some people with COVID-19. This means that you could possible still have COVID-19 even though the test is negative.”

Despite the chance of a false negative, Dr. Edwards still urges people to get tested, “If you were to miss just a few but be able to get a lot of them right away, then the benefit of that test would be greatly exceeded.”

There isn’t enough data yet to determine how often this happens. Doctors suggested if you have coronavirus symptoms, assume you have the illness, even if you test negative and self-quarantine.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.


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