New study suggests lateral flow tests are more reliable than thought

October 19th, 2021

A new study has indicated that lateral flow tests are more reliable than first thought.

Researchers from University College London found that lateral flow tests (LFTs) are highly effective in detecting people who have a high risk of spreading Covid-19 and should be trusted.

When lateral flow tests were introduced as a means of speeding up the process of detecting Covid-19 infections, there were doubts about their accuracy, but the research team at UCL has described them as a “very useful public health tool.”
Lead author of the study, Prof Irene Petersen, said that anyone who gets a positive LFT result should trust the outcome and remain at home to reduce the risk of passing the virus on. Around a third of people who have Covid don’t display any symptoms.

Current government guidelines encourage those who receive a positive lateral flow test result to follow it up with a PCR test. PCR tests are analysed in laboratories. If the PCR result is negative, individuals are allowed to end their period of self-isolation.

Prof Petersen said that in the vast majority of cases, there is no need to carry out a PCR test after a positive lateral flow result, as it is very likely that the result is accurate.

UCL researchers found that lateral flow tests were effective in identifying around 80% of Covid-19 infections, with levels rising to over 90% in those who are most infectious at the time of testing. These figures indicate a much higher degree of accuracy than first thought.

Prof Michael Mina, from Harvard School of Public Health, was also part of the study team. He explained that lateral flow tests were capable of catching “nearly everyone who is currently a serious risk to public health.”

In most cases, when a lateral flow test is negative and a subsequent PCR test is positive, this is because they have reached a stage where the virus is more transmissible.

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