NewsMobile Explainer: What Is Leading To False Negative RT-PCR Test Reports & Allied Risk Of Spreading COVID-19

(Photo: ANI)

Is the ‘double mutant’ variant of the coronavirus making it even more difficult for detection of COVID-19? That’s the question doing rounds now as more and more people come forward to narrate their personal experiences to illustrate how a negative test report soon turned into a nightmare in a few days with the second test showing positive results.

A false negative report is worrying to say the least as it gives an impression to the patient that they are fine when the fact is that they are actually carrying the infection. It might also delay the process of seeking medical advice and in case a person fails to self-isolate, others who come in contact with him or her may be at risk of contracting the infection.

As per available data, even though RT-PCR continues to be the gold standard for COVID-19 testing, in one out of every five case, the report is coming either false positive or false negative.

Why Are RT-PCR Tests Failing To Detect The Virus?

While multiple theories are doing rounds, the most predominant factor that comes to the fore is that the virus has undergone mutation and changed its look and behaviour since it first propped up, often making it difficult for the test kits to detect.

While updated testing kits are already there in the market, due to the high demand, many a times old testing kits, which were developed before the new variants – including the deadly UK variant which is also a part of the double mutant variant – are being used leading to false negative reports.

The second reason is possibly that if the viral load is considerably low, which is why the test is providing false negative report.

Also, considering the overwhelming strain on our healthcare system, sample collection paraments and test parameters are also being compromised in some cases. Which is leading to negative reports.

“Every test a degree of confidence with some being false negative. Also sometime technician induced variation in harvesting sample and precautions of handling sample till testing is done and many variable factors,” explains Dr Fuad Halim, a COVID-19 survivor himself who has donated plasma more than five times.

Some doctors also opine that owing to the mutation the viral load instead of being in the oral and nasal cavity are possibly establishing small concentrated colonies elsewhere in the body. Since swab samples are taken from the mouth and nose, it may be that because of this factor, detection is also becoming a challenge at times.

US FDA Concerned

The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) is also alerting patients and health care providers of the risk of false results.

FDA is highlighting the risks to patients with false negative test results with respect to delayed or lack of supportive treatment, critical for quick recovery.

Lack of monitoring of infected individuals whose reports have come negative and their household or other close contacts for symptoms is also being flagged off by USFDA.

What Should People Do If They Have Symptoms But Reports Are Negative?

Anyone displaying any symptoms despite negative test report must immediately go in isolation, inform their doctor and start prescribed medications if advised.

The other vital step to get an Oxymeter and keep recording the oxygen saturation levels at least twice every day. Any time if the reading goes below 94, immediately seek medical help.

If the symptoms still persist, a repeat RT-PCR test is recommended and if the report comes negative again, the doctor may advise a CT Scan. A CT Scan, if recommended by the doctor, will be instrumental in revealing patches in the lungs which are now manifesting themselves within the first week of infection instead of the earlier pattern where patches appeared considerably later.

In some cases, blood tests – the C-Reactive Protein test and the D-dimer test – are also being recommended.

A C-Reactive Protein Test measures the level of c-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. CRP is a protein made by the liver. It’s sent into a person’s bloodstream in response to inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting ones tissues if he or she has been injured or has an infection.

A D-dimer test is a blood test usually used to help check for or monitor blood clotting problems. A positive test means the D-dimer level in the body is higher than normal and suggests someone might have blood clots.

While RT-PCR test continues to be the most trusted tool for identification of the infection, let us keep our eyes and ears open for any warning signs before it gets too late.

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