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Mayo’s Clinical Virology Lab director debunks coronavirus PCR test myth
Aug. 4, 2021
A rumor floating around social media last week claimed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revoked the emergency use authorization (EUA) for coronavirus PCR tests because they produced false positive results and inaccurately labeled cases of influenza as COVID-19. When the Associated Press dug into that claim, they found it to be false.
The reality? To date, the FDA has approved more than 250 PCR coronavirus tests. The CDC will be withdrawing its EUA request for one of them: the CDC 2019 Novel Coronavirus Real-time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel, developed early in the pandemic. But the request wasn’t made because the test is inaccurate. It was because that test can’t do what newer tests can. The older test only detects coronavirus, while tests developed more recently detect both coronavirus and influenza at the same time.
Claims started to circulate that falsely stated the CDC announcement meant PCR tests aren’t reliable, and that they may be counting cases of influenza as COVID-19. Not true, says Matthew Binnicker, Ph.D., director of Mayo Clinic’s Clinical Virology Laboratory, who was consulted for the Associated Press story.
“PCR tests, including the one developed by the CDC, are highly accurate and are able to differentiate between SARS-CoV-2 and influenza,” he said. “In other words, a COVID-19 test will not be positive if a person really has influenza, and vice versa.”
Dr. Binnicker also noted that “PCR tests are designed to detect very specific areas of the viral genome, so tests do not get confused between which virus is present.”