Tap Water Can't Test Positive for COVID-19, Viral Claim is Misleading
Incorrect use of the COVID-19 test kits can give inaccurate or unreliable results.
Videos showing people using tap water as the sample on a COVID-19 test have gone viral. While some people who shared the video claimed that tap water carries the novel coronavirus, others said that the home testing kits are faulty.
However, we found that the claims are misleading as the videos don't use the test kits as per the instructions. Independent studies conducted on the tests proved that such results can be achieved with not only tap water but other substances such as soft drinks, fruits, etc.
Additionally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that COVID-19 can't survive in drinking water or water we get at homes as it is treated with dinfectants.
We also spoke with Dr Swapneil Parikh, Internal medicine specialist, and the author of the book, The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know about the Global Pandemic, who said that the results seen the viral videos were incorrect as the tests are not designed to test tap water.
People shared videos and photographs of COVID-19 tests and mentioned in the caption that they had tested tap water for coronavirus.
Another Facebook user warned people against using these home test kits. While one video was just 30 seconds long, another video was over 2 minutes long. In both cases, the video ends when the user gets a positive result.
WHAT WE FOUND OUT
The COVID-19 test in the video was one made by Abbott Rapid Diagnostics called BinaxNOW. The instructions in the product manual clearly show how the test kits are supposed to be used and also mention that the results are supposed to be seen after 15 minutes.
On the contrary, the viral videos seem to get a positive result in under three minutes. The manual also says, "Reading the test results earlier than 15 minutes or later than 20 minutes may give incorrect results".
The claim was also fact-checked by international fact-checking organisations who reached out to Abbott for a comment.
A spokesperson for the company told news agency Reuters, "BinaxNOW is for use with samples collected with a nasal swab inserted into a person’s nostrils. BinaxNOW is not for use with water or any other foods or liquids."
The spokesperson added that if used correctly, the test was supposed to give highly accurate results.
"Other liquids have chemical properties which can cause a chemical reaction on the test strip, resulting in misleading or inaccurate results. Failure to follow the instructions for the test procedure and interpretation of test results may adversely affect test performance and produce misleading or invalid results," the spokesperon told Reuters.
The correct way to use the test has been shared by the company on their YouTube channel.
Dr Parikh too said that one should follow the instructions given with Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) and use the test accordingly.
"People have used tap water, diet coke, different kinds of juices on the COVID-19 RATs. Materials of a certain pH may trigger a positive result but you are not supposed to use that on the test. If you use it in a way that it is not supposed to be used and the obviously you will not get the right results, Dr Parikh said.
We also found a study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases in October conducted an experiment in which they tested the COVID-19 RATs with other materials like soft drinks, energy drink, alcoholic beverages, commercially bottled mineral water, etc.
The study observed, "Deceitful methods may easily lead to misuse of COVID-19 antigen rapid tests and result in false-positive results; however, this does not prove that these tests are unreliable when performed correctly."
CAN COVID-19 SPREAD THROUGH WATER?
Dr Sylvie Briand, the director of WHO’s Department of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, said in September 2020 that COVID-19 was not transmissible through water.
It is also mentioned in the US CDC's website wherein the organisation mentions that "conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19."
Evidently, false claims stating that COVID-19 home tests are faulty and that COVID-19 can spread through tap water were shared by several social media users.
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