The limits of testing and the phantom of the false negative

The globally approved test for Covid-19, while very accurate, is not infallible – and cases can be missed

19th April, 2020
The limits of testing and the phantom of the false negative
Lab: testing for the coronavirus in Giugliano hospital in Naples. Picture: Getty images

As doctors become familiar with Covid-19 and its clinical symptoms, anecdotal reports are now emerging that many patients who fit the case definition for the disease are being told that they actually tested negative.

Early Chinese studies suggest “false negatives” could account for 30 out of every 100 cases. In other words, the test might only detect 70 out of every 100 people infected.

Writing in the New York Times, Harlan Krumholz, professor of medicine at Yale,...

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