COVID-19 testing remains one of our most powerful tools in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as the virus evolves. Just as the pandemic progresses, so too does testing. For example, we now have multiple test types, like PCR, antigen, rapid, at-home, and antibody testing.
Each of these tests serve slightly different purposes and possess their own set of pros and cons. For example, some may take longer to produce results, others may have a lower validity or higher error rate, some may require a lab versus being completed at home. The point is, there is testing for just about any circumstance.
While testing is recommended by both WHO and the CDC, it is not a perfect solution. Some tests can occasionally produce inaccurate results, either in the form of false positives, false negatives, or inconclusive results. In this blog, we address false positive results, particularly with rapid tests, as well as what to do if you test positive.
Before getting into what causes a false positive rapid covid test, let’s go over some basic facts and figures.
As you may have picked up on by now, the answer is yes. While they are not particularly common, false positive covid tests can occur in rapid tests. However, according to Vox and the FDA, rapid covid tests have a high level of specificity, meaning that their positive results are very trustworthy. On the flip side, rapid tests have slightly lower levels of sensitivity than traditional PCR tests, meaning that you actually run a higher chance (around 10%) of getting a false negative rapid COVID-19 test result.
According to a study conducted in March of 2021 and summarized by Healthline, researchers found that rapid tests produce correct positive results in 99.6 percent of people. This means that the rapid test false positive rate is less than 1 percent. Again, due to their high levels of specificity, positive results from rapid covid tests are very trustworthy.
While the occurrence of false positive results is low, they can still happen with a handful of common causes. Let’s take a look at some of these causes and how to avoid a false positive COVID-19 test according to the FDA.
One of the most common errors in performing rapid tests is not following the manufacturer’s instructions. This can cause inaccurate results. For example, you may need to perform certain maneuvers, wait a certain period of time, or make sure you have all of the correct materials to conduct the test. Fortunately, this is easy to remedy by simply reading the directions in their entirety, prior to starting the test.
Depending on where you receive your rapid test, you may run a slight risk of cross-contamination with other test subjects. If you are testing on your own at home, this shouldn’t be an issue, as long as the swab only comes in contact with your nose. However, if you go to a testing site or are being tested at the same time as other people, there is a slight risk that your test sample becomes contaminated with someone else’s.
Every once in a while, a test manufacturer is liable to produce a malfunctioning set of tests. It’s possible that this impacts you, however it is not very likely. In particular there has really only been one main manufacturer, Ellume, who had to recall tests due to false positive results, per the FDA’s recommendation.
Whether it is a rapid test, PCR test, or any other verified COVID-19 test, once you get a positive result you need to treat it as a legitimate and accurate result. That means acting in accordance with the CDC guidelines. If you are skeptical about your test result, you can always re-test or take a PCR test, but once you test positive, you need to act as if you are currently infected with COVID-19.
Once you decide to get tested, it’s important that you can trust the results and the process. That’s where BioCollections comes in. We provide safe, state of the art testing, with top tier customer service, and transparent communication at every step. If urgency is on your mind, look no further, as we have the capacity to turn out same-day PCR test results. What’s more, we are your community partner on all things COVID-19. So, schedule your appointment today, or reach out to us with any questions you may have!