As respiratory illnesses continue to surge across the country, you may be feeling unwell at the start of the new year. You may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and have used the free tests distributed by the government in 2023 or have received a negative result.
While a negative test result may have a straightforward explanation, there is a possibility that you may have overlooked it. Some COVID tests distributed by the government in October had exceeded their printed best-by date, which was set for February 2023, eight months before they were delivered to mailboxes. However, these tests were not expired, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which extended the expiration dates for over a dozen at-home COVID test kits, including those initially marked to expire in February 2023, now deemed effective until February 2024.
But, COVID tests lose their efficacy past their extended expiration dates. So, if your test result is negative, it’s plausible your test has expired. The FDA cautioned against using expired COVID tests due to potential degradation of test components, leading to inaccurate or invalid results. The FDA’s website features a comprehensive list of COVID tests with extended expiration dates.
If your test is unexpired but yields a negative result, you might be dealing with a different respiratory ailment. According to Dr. Andrew Pekosz, a virologist and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor, a negative result amid symptomatic feelings often signifies another respiratory infection besides COVID-19. Influenza and RSV are circulating at heightened levels alongside COVID-19, all sharing similar symptoms.
However, a negative test result does not significantly alter the next course of action. Dr. Pekosz advised staying home, self-care, and seeking medical guidance, particularly for high-risk groups, regardless of the specific respiratory illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends consulting a healthcare provider for further testing or queries regarding symptoms and test outcomes, as a negative COVID test does not guarantee a complete absence of infection as the virus may still be present in minimal quantities.
This article originally appeared on The Hill