Rapid tests for COVID-19 useful, but not always accurate

Rapid tests for COVID-19 useful, but not always accurate

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - As COVID-19 infections are on the rise, people are looking for more testing and faster results. While rapid tests certainly have their pluses, the option may not be the best choice.

If you find out that someone your family was around has the coronavirus, your first reaction may be to get everyone tested as fast as possible. Metro Public Health officials warn if you choose to search for a rapid test to get results in a couple of hours, it’s not as accurate and you should only do so if you have symptoms.

Rapid tests work best when a person has a higher viral load and the test can detect the coronavirus easily.

“We really don’t want to be using that as a screening tool because we know it has a lot of false negatives,” said Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of Louisville Metro Public Health, said of rapid tests, “we even saw that play out in DC in the last couple of weeks.”

False negatives can be deadly in spreading the virus. That’s because if someone who’s actually infected is told they are negative for the virus, they think they don’t have it, move on with daily life, not quarantine and could be unknowingly infecting others.

“If someone does have a headache or a sore throat or feeling achy, a rapid test might be a good fit for them,” said Jennifer Bolus, managing partner for Bluewater Diagnostics, “but it’s never going to replace the nasopharyngeal.”

The nasopharyngeal is the nasal test that goes all the way to the very back of the nose and throat where the virus is most present. Ask if that’s the test you’re getting.

Metro Health says there are numerous other testing sites around the area offering more comprehensive testing. Bluewater is one of them. They have 15 mobile centers in Kentucky, including one off Blankenbaker Parkway which tests an average of 300 people a day. Adults and children can get results within a couple of days.

“Anybody that has symptoms, if your kid has to stay home from day care, really the best recommendation now is 72 hours at home anyway,” Moyer said of going to a more comprehensive testing site, “and so they recommend that you go get that test the same day and you should get the result back by the time they should be out in the community anyway.”

In cases where people are required to be tested frequently, researchers say rapid tests may not be a bad option if they are combined every few days with nasopharyngeal swab tests.

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