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Sweden is still using PCR tests for COVID-19 detection

May 26, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Sweden has stopped using PCR tests to detect viruses.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Sweden’s Public Health Agency confirmed to The Associated Press that the country is still using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 and other viruses.

THE FACTS: A post by Sweden’s top health agency discussing the use of PCR tests to detect the coronavirus is being misinterpreted by social media users who falsely say the test is being discontinued there.

“Sweden Stops using PCR Tests - for the reason that good scientists have been saying for fifteen months - RNA from Viruses can be Detected for Months After Infection. Not fit for purpose,” a Twitter user falsely stated. The post was retweeted more than 2,000 times.

The false claims also spread on Instagram.

The PCR test, which can detect whether a virus’s genetic material is present in a sample, is considered to be the most accurate kind of COVID-19 test available.

In July, the health agency published a notice that mentioned PCR tests on its website that was misinterpreted on social media. “The PCR technology used in tests to detect viruses cannot distinguish between viruses capable of infecting cells and viruses that have been neutralized by the immune system and therefore these tests cannot be used to determine whether someone is contagious or not,” reads a translation of the agency’s website.

The health agency’s notice was describing clinical criteria that can be used to determine when COVID-19 patients should be considered free of infection. PCR tests can determine whether someone is carrying the virus, but cannot identify whether someone is contagious.

The health agency’s website notes that PCR tests are used to identify whether someone is infected with COVID-19.

“We can confirm that Sweden has not suspended the use of PCR tests,” Anna Wetterqvist, a spokesperson for the agency told the AP in an email.

Wetterqvist noted that about 350,000 PCR tests were carried out weekly in April and May. Sweden has carried out over 9.7 million PCR tests, she added.

“The tests are considered secure given that testing is performed according to regulations for quality assessment as stated by the Health and Medical Services Act,” Wetterqvist said.

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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