To get a more complete picture of how widespread the virus is in the United States, “we’re going to need millions and millions and millions of tests,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., during a CNN town hall on March 5, reported Science News.
Yesterday, March 18, Taiwan reported a record daily number of “confirmed cases” of Covid-19 at 23, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 100. Eleven of the cases were tested after arriving at Taipei Taoyuan International Airport.
Like many countries, Taiwan is blaming “The Others”: people coming from other countries. Of the 23 cases detected in Taiwan yesterday, 21 are considered to be contaminated from abroad:
“Turkey 4, Spain 3, U.S. 3, UK 2, France 2, Indonesia 1, Qatar 1, the Philippines 1, Switzerland 1, and Germany 1. In addition, one case had been to France, Spain, and the UK, while another had traveled in the UK, Italy, and France,” Taiwan News reported.
The government of Taiwan then shut down the border, issuing a decree that no foreigners shall enter the country. Other countries around the world were already closing their borders. The USA even closed the border with its neighbor Canada.
Even in China, where the outbreak began, reports say that new cases are originating abroad, after an apparently successful containment of community infections.
Many media reports added that even with tests being administered, the fear is that the tests may produce false negatives. The main concern for the majority of reporters and readers seems to be based on fear that “the invisible enemy,” as US President Donald Trump described it, may go undetected.
But the testing technology being used to test for the “novel coronavirus,” is notorious for returning false positive results, even for well-established, well-known, and thoroughly-studied disease agents, and it has been known for decades.
So why such deep belief that there should be more testing for this newly-discovered virus? And why so much faith in the tests?
The test being used by medical authorities is called the polymerase chain reaction test (PCR for short). The PCR test was invented by Dr Kary Mullis who received a Nobel prize in chemistry for his invention in 1993.
There are many scientific papers examining the issue of false positive results from the PCR tests. The South African Medical Journal published an article in 2012 False-positive HIV DNA PCR testing of infants: Implications in a changing epidemic, showing that 40 infants out of 718 tested during a 6-year period had actually been false positives, at a rate of 5.57%.
In a study by researchers in Taiwan Incidence of and Factors Associated with False Positives in Laboratory Diagnosis of Norovirus Infection by Amplification of the RNA-Dependent RNA Polymerase Gene the PCR tests originally administered were found to have resulted in “false positivity in at least 13.2% of the 250 clinical stool samples. “
There is nothing rare in these examples, as the rate of false positives is cited by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a reason the PCR test should not be used on asymptomatic patients for pertussis (whooping cough).
” Testing asymptomatic persons should be avoided as it increases the likelihood of obtaining falsely-positive results. Asymptomatic close contacts of confirmed cases should not be tested and testing of contacts should not be used for post-exposure prophylaxis decisions, ” The CDC stated.
So why is the test being used on asymptomatic people arriving at airports in Taiwan, and asymptomatic people everywhere in the world?
Furthermore, why are the tests being administered on asymptomatic people for an apparently new virus, when it obviously not recommended on asymptomatic people for disease agents that are well-known to science?