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Fact or Fiction: Health experts say it’s unlikely to get a false positive if you take a PCR COVID test

Updated: Mar. 9, 2021 at 4:52 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - There have been almost 6.2 million COVID tests conducted in South Carolina since the pandemic began.

A total of 451,026 cases have been confirmed to date. But, what’s the possibility of getting a false positive?

Doctors say that nothing is 100% in medicine. But there is a difference when we’re talking about rapid tests versus PCR tests.

“The PCR test is our most accurate and reliable test,” Amanda Biondi, the program director at Roper St. Francis’ Greer Transitions Clinic, says. “What that test does is it looks for the actual genetic material that’s in our COVID-19 virus. Some of our rapid tests work a little different and so they’re not as sensitive as the PCR test. That’s sort of why it’s the gold standard, if you will, because it is the most sensitive and the most reliable test we have.”

Biondi says because the PCR test is so sensitive, we don’t typically see a false positive from it.

“It’s a very sensitive test because it is looking for that actual material that the virus contains,” Biondi says. “Where we find a false positive, for example, would be if a patient had maybe had the virus in the past, was asymptomatic, they’ve recovered, but that genetic material is still in their body. So you can have a positive result on your PCR test, even after you may have recovered.”

Biondi says the PCR tests have been used since the 1990′s to look for genetic material in viruses.

Biondi adds that it’s not unlikely that a family can run their course of the disease and then later a child can test positive because their immune system is so different than adults.

“That’s why it’s important to still do that hand washing, social distancing and wearing a mask,” Biondi says.

The FDA has acknowledged that false positive results can occur in rapid tests if they’re not taken correctly.

Biondi states when you get the vaccine, it is not going to make you have a false positive.

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