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Having a common cold does not produce a positive test for COVID-19

July 28, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: If your coronavirus test comes back positive, it may be because you have a common cold, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Posts sharing this claim are mistaking CDC guidance on antibody tests as CDC guidance on tests for the virus. A common cold alone would not result in a positive COVID-19 test.

THE FACTS: There are two types of tests available that relate to COVID-19: viral tests and antibody tests.

Viral tests check if the virus that causes COVID-19 is active in the body, while antibody tests are designed to look for a past infection by checking the blood for relevant antibodies.

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As part of its guidance on antibody tests, the CDC’s website says the following:

“A positive test result shows you may have antibodies from an infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. However, there is a chance a positive result means that you have antibodies from an infection with a virus from the same family of viruses (called coronaviruses), such as the one that causes the common cold.”

In recent weeks, social media users have confused this message on antibody tests as pertaining to viral tests.

“So if your Corona test is positive it could also be the common cold,” reads one Facebook post viewed more than 160,000 times. “This is straight from the CDC. I rest my case.”

This post misrepresents CDC information, and is false.

If your viral test is positive, it means you have a current infection with SARS-CoV-2, the specific virus that causes COVID-19, according to the CDC.

If you have a positive viral test result and have no symptoms, you should self-isolate for at least 10 days after the positive result, according to the CDC.

If you do have symptoms, the agency says, you should refrain from being around any other people until at least 10 days have passed since you first experienced symptoms, at least 24 hours have passed with no fever without fever-reducing medication, and symptoms have gotten better.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536