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70 percent of Covid cases detected by rapid testing are false

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70 percent of Covid cases detected by rapid testing are false

If a rapid lateral flow test has detected you have Covid-19, you probably don’t; up to 72 percent of cases identified by the test are false-positives, a new review has discovered.

The lateral flow is the quick, on-the-spot test that’s being used to get children into school and adults back into the workplace—but it’s hopelessly inaccurate and doesn’t do the job, say researchers from the independent Cochrane Collaboration.

It’s producing up to 72 percent of false-positive results and is picking up true cases in just half of people who are asymptomatic.

The results are forcing schools to close and thousands to self-isolate needlessly, the researchers say. Along with the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, the lateral flow is at the heart of government initiatives to get society open again. But it’s a flawed approach, says lead researcher Jon Deeks, professor of biostatistics at Birmingham University, and he was shocked that the government had rolled out a “large, invasive and expensive” testing programme without first getting the data to support it.

The problems of getting accurate test results are exacerbated when the prevalence of any disease is low. Covid rates are now at just 0.5 percent of the population, which dramatically increases the chances that any positive test result is, in fact, false. Overall, the lateral flow test is likely to have a false-positive rate of 72 percent.

(Source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews; doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD013705.pub2)

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