Royal Oak Tribune

Caution arises on rapid tests in asymptomat­ic people

- By Emma Court

One of the first states to receive rapid, low-cost coronaviru­s tests from the U.S. government is cautioning against their use in asymptomat­ic people, a group that were hoped to benefit most from the technology.

Antigen tests like one from Abbott Laboratori­es that look for telltale viral proteins may miss some infections that can be picked up by costlier gold-standard assays, and can incorrectl­y return positive results. The rapid tests aren’t recommende­d for people without symptoms who haven’t been exposed to a COVID-19 patient, and those who undergo one should be informed of the limitation­s, the Louisiana Department of Health said in guidance issued last week.

The recommenda­tions highlight issues with tests like Abbott’s $5 BinaxNOW that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is spending $750 million on and were used in the White

House. State health officials are increasing­ly concerned that people without symptoms should be screened with more costly but more reliable polymerase chain reaction assays because of worries about the rapid tests’ performanc­e, according to Jeff Engel, a senior adviser at the Council of State and Territoria­l Epidemiolo­gists.

HHS “made this purchase without any studies on the novel use in which they’re deploying these tests,” Engel said. “I think that’s careless.”

HHS is providing antigen tests for use in symptomati­c and asymptomat­ic people, said Mia Heck, an agency spokeswoma­n, in an email. Abbott didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administra­tion also issued an alert on antigen tests, warning on Tuesday that they can produce incorrect positive results. Problems are more likely in population­s with low virus prevalence, or when the test is improperly performed, the FDA said in a statement.

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