huntsville, alabama, city

Doctor says false-positive COVID-19 test is rare

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A local Infectious Disease Specialist says COVID-19 false positives are rare. This comes after University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban made it back to the big game Saturday against Georgia after testing positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.

A succession of tests in following days showed Saban did not have the virus. Saturday morning before the game the University said its medical team concluded that the coach had received a false positive result on Wednesday.

Dr. Ali Hassoun¬†works with Huntsville Hospital, Madison Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center.¬†He explains there are two main types of COVID-19 tests: molecular tests, such as PCR tests, that detect the virus’s genetic material and antigen tests that detect specific proteins on the surface of the virus.

“Rapid tests have more chances of getting false negative in compared to the usual process kind of test. You know the idea from this again, people think ‘oh it’s a rapid test it can be less sensitive’ but that’s what’s available now. For example, we have a flu test which is rapid as well and it checks molecular and it’s much better,” says Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Ali Hassoun.

Infectious disease specialists say the antigen tests, also known as the rapid tests, have more chances for giving a false negative if anything.

“As a test, it not only depends on what the process in the lab but it depends on who collects the sample what swab you do, what stage of infection the patient has. All these factors play in the sensitivity and specificity of the test,” says Dr. Hassoun.

Alabama’s team physician, Dr. Jimmy Robinson said Coach Saban had three negative PCR tests that satisfied the SEC protocol for a false positive.

“Currently in Alabama we have a very widespread rate of infection so the likelihood of having a false positive will be on the lower side,” says Dr. Hassoun.

Dr. Hassoun recommends if someone is feeling sick or is symptomatic to get a PCR test done. If they are asymptomatic but exposed to a group of people or just want regular testing, rapid antigen testing should be sufficient.

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