FACT CHECK: Viral Post Conflates COVID-19 Antibody And Viral Tests

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

A viral Instagram post claims the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the common cold can cause a positive COVID-19 test result.


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Their latest update on #COVID19, posted on Tuesday, is a real doozy. Here’s what the CDC said in a section headlined: What do your results mean? “A positive test result shows you may have antibodies from an infection with the virus that causes #COVID-19. However, there is a chance a positive result means that you have antibodies from an infection with a virus from the same family of viruses (called coronaviruses), such as the one that causes the common cold.” That’s right, because COVID-19 is a #coronavirus (like the common cold), your positive test means you have COVID-19 (or the common cold). Coronaviruses (CoV) — called that because they have spikes around a central ball that looks like the sun — are part of a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from a cold to more severe diseases, including COVID-19 (caused by SARS-CoV-2), and others such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). SARS -CoV-2 is also known as a novel coronavirus (nCoV) because it is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Many of the symptoms from coronaviruses are similar: upper respiratory infection, fever, coughing, sneezing. While MERS and SARS can be serious — and SARS-CoV-2 as well, at least for the elderly and others with co-morbidities — most are treatable and nearly all people afflicted recover. So why would the CDC equate COVID-19 with the common cold? J.B. Neiman, a managing partner and general counsel of a #Texas-based health care company that owns 13 free-standing clinics, has an idea. He told former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, who has been on the forefront of covering the facts behind COVID-19, that the bottom line is money. ????????More in comments????????

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Verdict: False

The post conflates COVID-19 antibody tests with COVID-19 viral tests. The CDC has said an antibody test might give a positive result if antibodies from another coronavirus are present.

Fact Check:

The image, which shows a screen grab of a July 1 article published by the website Gateway Pundit, alleges that the CDC has said common cold can cause a positive COVID-19 test result. The text accompanying the Instagram post appears to lift from the original version of that article and quotes language from the CDC’s website.

Other posts use a screen grab of the CDC website to make the same claim, with one commenting, “The COMMON COLD can produce a positive COVID test!! do the increase of numbers really mean ANYTHING at this point??”

But the posts appear to incorrectly equate information about COVID-19 antibody tests with viral tests. (RELATED: Viral Post Claims Flu Vaccines Can Make People Test Positive For COVID-19)

There are two kinds of COVID-19 testing: viral and antibody. An antibody test can show if a person has previously had COVID-19, whereas a viral test shows if a person has a current infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the CDC.

The CDC website states that “there is a chance” a COVID-19 antibody test may produce a positive result if “you have antibodies from an infection with a virus from the same family of viruses.” Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Because it can take one to three weeks for the body to produce antibodies, an antibody test may not show if a person currently has COVID-19, according to the CDC. A person must get a viral test to determine if he or she currently has a COVID-19 infection.

“Except in instances in which viral testing is delayed, antibody tests should not be used to diagnose a current COVID-19 infection,” the CDC states on its website.

Gateway Pundit later updated its article to reflect that the information from the CDC’s page on antibody testing relates to “the ‘past infection’ test, not the current COVID-19 test to see if you have the virus right now.” It also now notes that current case counts do not include antibody tests.

As of press time, the U.S. has reported over 3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 132,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
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