PCR Test Cannot Differentiate COVID-19 vs. Influenza?

Did the CDC just admit that the PCR test cannot differentiate between COVID-19 and influenza?

Find out what’s going on, and what the FACTS really are!


PCR Test Cannot Differentiate COVID-19 vs. Influenza?

COVID-19 deniers and antivaxxers are claiming that the CDC has admitted that the current PCR test cannot differentiate between COVID-19 and influenza.

Their evidence? A screenshot of a CDC laboratory alert issued on 21 July 2021, stating that the CDC will withdraw the EUA (Emergency Use Authorisation) for the COVID-19 RT-PCR test.

What is fuelling their claim is the part where the CDC asked laboratories to switch to other COVID-19 tests that can “facilitate detection and differentiation of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses“.

COVID-19 deniers and antivaxxers are calling this a CDC admission that the current RT-PCR test cannot differentiate between the two viruses, and COVID-19 could really just be influenza.

It also doesn’t help that some mainstream media misunderstood what the CDC is saying.

Yahoo! News, for example, claimed “CDC urges labs to use COVID tests that can differentiate from flu“, which unfortunately suggests that the current RT-PCR test cannot differentiate between SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses.


Truth : PCR Test Can Differentiate COVID-19 vs. Influenza

The truth is using PCR to test for a single pathogen like the SARS-CoV-2 virus is incredibly wasteful.

In normal times, a patient’s sample would be tested against a panel of multiple respiratory illnesses, allowing a single PCR test to detect and differentiate for multiple viruses.

To speed things up during an emergency, the CDC applied for the Emergency Use Authorisation for their RT-PCR test that only detects SARS-CoV-2, which was introduced in February 2020.

The Emergency Use Authorisation is necessary to allow patients to be tested for a single infectious agent (the SARS-CoV-2 virus) in a given emergency (the COVID-19 pandemic).

To test for other pathogens, another PCR test would have to be performed, which wastes time and laboratory resources.

The FDA has since authorised multi-analyte panels for RT-PCR tests, which can test for multiple viruses at the same time. So it only makes sense for laboratories to start using them.

The CDC issued that laboratory alert to encourage laboratories to start using these multi-analyte panels, which would be useful in :

  • conserving resources and laboratory time : instead of requiring multiple tests, the sample can be tested once for multiple pathogens
  • helping doctors determine if the patient has COVID-19, or a similar respiratory viral illness, or both.

In particular, this would help doctors during the influenza season to quickly determine if the patient has COVID-19, or just influenza, or in rare cases – both of them at the same time!

COVID-19 deniers and antivaxxers will continue to push this lie, but the truth is – the PCR test can differentiate between COVID-19 and influenza virus.


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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.

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