REPORT: CDC acknowledges major mix up in coronavirus testing data
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged Thursday that it is combining the results from viral and antibody COVID-19 tests when reporting the country’s testing totals, despite marked differences between the tests.
Viral tests — commonly referred to as PCR tests as most of them use a process known as polymerase chain reaction — are used by health professionals to determine whether or not a person is currently infected with the disease. During the pandemic, viral tests have been the most effective way of being able to diagnose a positive case of COVID-19. They are what state governments have been counting to track the number of confirmed cases of the virus they have.
The article goes on to state the following:
Antibody, or serology, tests serve a different purpose. Unlike viral tests that are taken by nose swab or saliva sample, antibody tests examine a person’s blood to see if their immune system has created antibodies to combat COVID-19. These tests allow doctors to see if someone has previously been exposed to the virus. As the push for widespread testing in the U.S. has strengthened, antibody tests have been widely produced, many experts have balked at saying that antibodies equate to immunity from COVID-19. Serology tests are also less accurate than PCR tests, increasing the chances for a false negative.
A negative PCR test means a patient is not currently ill with the disease, while a negative serology test means the patient was most either not exposed to or infected with COVID-19.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told The Atlantic. “How could the CDC make that mistake? This is a mess.”
NPR reports further on this development:
The CDC’s practice was first reported by Miami public radio station WLRN on Wednesday and was confirmed by the agency in a subsequent email to NPR.
Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, expressed concern that adding the two types of tests together could leave the impression that more testing of active cases had been conducted than was actually the case.
“Reporting both serology and viral tests under the same category is not appropriate, as these two types of tests are very different and tell us different things,” Nuzzo wrote in an email to NPR.
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