Accuracy of rapid flu tests questioned

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

(12/01/09) -- Some doctors are using rapid tests to check children for H1N1 flu. Sometimes, those tests don't tell the whole story - with dangerous consequences.

Medical tests are supposed to help people, but this rapid flu test may have hurt nine-year-old Hayli Murphy.

Reporter: Hayli wasn't just sick with H1N1, she was...

Julie Murphy, Hayli Murphy's mother: She was right there. She was on death's door.

Back in September, Hayli first started showing signs of the flu, so her mother,  Julie Murphy, took her to the emergency room.

Reporter: When you brought Hayli into the emergency room the first time, they did a test and they told you she doesn't have the flu.

Julie Murphy: She's fine. She doesn't have the flu. She's got a virus, high fevers. Take her home.

But at home, Hayli's temperature climbed to 104 degrees. The next day, her mother took her back to the E-R, where again, the rapid test said she did not have the flu.

Reporter: You expect when a test says negative, that it's negative.

Julie Murphy: That it's negative, yeah

Reporter: Well, what did you find out?

Julie Murphy: I found out different.

The next day, Hayli was so sick her mother had to carry her into the emergency room. Hayli spent the next six weeks in intensive care, where doctors used a different, more reliable test. As it turns out, Hayli did have H1N1.

The test that was used on Hayli Murphy twice missed her flu. It's relatively inexpensive and it's wrong a lot.

Reporter: When these tests say you don't have the flu, how often are they wrong?

Dr. Rhonda Medows, Georgia Dep't. of Community Health: Anywhere from 90 to 30 percent of the time.

Dr. Medows warns doctors in her state not to use rapid flu tests because they're wrong so often. "I'm telling them they don't really need them. They need to focus more on their clinical exam. I don't see the value."

We contacted three big makers of rapid flu tests used in the United States. One gave us a statement.

The company BD said, "As with other rapid tests, doctors should be aware that a negative result does not fully exclude the possibility that the patient has influenza. Following a negative rapid test, physicians have the option to proceed to more advanced tests."

Dr Roberto Monge was one of the first doctors who treated Hayli in Fort Myers, Florida.

Reporter: Twice Hayli received this rapid flu test and twice it was wrong."

Dr. Monge: This test is not as good as we would like it to be.

Reporter: Do you think in Hayli's case this test might have misled the doctors?

Dr. Monge: No, I don't think so. This was handled very well.

Monge says doctors did not rely only on the rapid test, but also on a physical exam and their best judgment. All of which led them to believe she did not have H1N1.

Reporter: If you had listened to those tests.

Julie Murphy: Hayli would have been dead within the next 24 hours.

(Copyright ©2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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