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Navigating a Negative COVID-19 Test with Symptoms

Your child is coughing, sneezing, aching, and feeling downright under the weather. You automatically assume they’ve caught COVID-19 at school, and head for a test. But to your surprise, the results come back negative–leaving you with more questions than answers.

How to navigate a negative COVID-19 test result while suffering symptoms

Here, we walk you through the possibility of false negatives, other causes of illness, and what to do next.

Is it possible to receive a false negative test result?

As with all diagnostic testing, false negative test results are possible. The risk of a false negative depends on the timing and sensitivity of the COVID-19 diagnostic test administered.

For example, a rapid antigen test may not detect the virus during early stages. If your child receives an antigen test too soon, it could come back negative, even though they are infected. If your little one is showing symptoms, it’s a good idea to confirm their negative result with a PCR test. Highly sensitive PCR tests are considered the most reliable testing option available, and can reduce the risk of a false negative.

Consider other illnesses with similar symptoms

During the ongoing pandemic, it’s natural for the mind to jump right to COVID at the first sign of respiratory symptoms. But, there are plenty of other viruses and bacteria that can contribute to coughs, congestion, and fevers.

If your child tests negative for COVID-19, but still isn’t feeling well, talk to your doctor about the possibility of flu, RSV, adenovirus, allergies, and strep. They may need additional testing and treatment to heal. Remember to keep kids home when they’re sick, and ensure they get plenty of rest and fluids.

If you’re unsure about your child’s negative COVID-19 test result, visit our pediatric clinic for expert care and advice.