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Fact Check-The CDC did not say PCR tests are incapable of detecting COVID-19

Guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for clinical laboratories using tests other than PCRs that can simultaneously detect influenza and SARS-CoV-2 have again been misinterpreted online.

The alert, first released in July ( here ) also announced that, after Dec. 31, the CDC will withdraw its request for Emergency Use Authorization for its coronavirus test 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel, introduced in February 2020.

At the time, Reuters addressed posts that falsely claimed the reason behind this was that such diagnostic tests to confirm cases of COVID-19 in the United States were incapable of differentiating between SARS-CoV-2 and influenza ( here )

Recent posts and online articles repeated this misleading claim in the run-up to Dec. 31 ( here , here , here , here ).

CDC spokeswoman Jasmine Reed told Reuters in July that the agency was “encouraging public health laboratories to adopt the CDC Influenza SARS-CoV-2 (Flu SC2) Multiplex Assay to enable continued surveillance for both influenza and SARS-CoV-2, which will save both time and resources.”

“The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019 nCoV) Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel met an important unmet need when it was developed and deployed and has not demonstrated any performance issues,” she said.

Some users have also since suggested that PCR tests had misdiagnosed influenza as COVID-19, meaning the former “disappeared” in 2020 ( here , here )

In a clarification statement here , the CDC said such tests were “specifically designed to only detect SARS-CoV-2 viral genetic material” and that “the presence of influenza viral genetic material within a specimen will not cause a false positive result”.

As previously explained by Reuters here , it is true that flu cases declined in the 2020-2021 season, but health experts say this is most likely due to COVID-19 protective measures, which also provide protection against influenza and other respiratory illnesses.

VERDICT

False. The CDC has advised for the use of tests that test for both the influenza and COVID-19 simultaneously to save time and resources. PCR tests are specifically designed to only detect SARS-CoV-2 viral genetic material, the CDC says.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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