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Antibody tests can yield false positives, especially where infection rates are relatively low

Antibody tests can yield false positives, especially where infection rates are relatively low

Authors Brianna Abbott, Elbert Wang and Denise Roland discuss COVID-19 antibody testing. After a rocky rollout, higher-quality coronavirus antibody tests have emerged that, among other uses, are beginning to give a clearer picture of the pathogen’s spread. But for people who are simply curious about whether they’ve unknowingly been infected, some doctors and public-health authorities are still hesitant to recommend antibody tests.

The reliability of these tests for any one person, they say, comes down to a matter of probability: As with most other medical tests, that depends not only on a test’s quality but also on a disease’s prevalence within a community...“It’s a probability nightmare if the prevalence is low,” said Anthony Lemmo, chief executive of BioDot, a diagnostics manufacturing company. “That is really difficult for people to wrap their head around.” ...

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