ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s public health labs are checking results from rapid COVID-19 testing machines amid concerns about their accuracy.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has 113 testing machines to confirm suspected coronavirus cases, The Anchorage Daily News reported Monday.
The machines made by Abbott and called “ID NOW” were distributed to remote Alaska communities that needed fast test results. Days or weeks were previously needed in some places where samples had to be flown to other labs.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last week that early data suggested the machines could produce potentially inaccurate results.
The main concerns are false negatives, which are tests incorrectly indicating patients do not have COVID-19. The FDA said it is investigating.
Dr. Bernd Jilly, director of Alaska’s public health laboratories, said he has known about the false negative issues since the testing machines were first deployed.
The state subsequently requested that Abbott machine results be submitted to the state labs for follow-up testing.
Through Saturday, 43,507 tests had been conducted in Alaska, the health department said.
Out of 360 Abbott test results checked through Friday, one negative test came back positive during confirmatory testing, Jilly said.
“They had a very low viral load so it was right at the limit of detection of the Abbott machine,” Jilly said. “So it was not surprising that it came up negative.”
A recent study by New York University, which has not yet gone through the traditional peer-review process for scientific research, showed high false-negative rates in the Abbott machines during testing in New York.
In places where the virus is more prevalent, many negatives would be more of a red flag. But in Alaska, where cases are low, “one would expect a negative result just based on the clinical picture of life here,” Jilly said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.