Banner Hospitals Halt Rapid Testing for Swine Flu Virus; Half of Findings Were False Negatives

The medical staff at Banner Health's 10 Valley hospitals have quit using a rapid test for the H1N1 swine flu virus because of too many false-negative results.

About 50 percent of people who came up negative on the rapid test were later found to have swine flu. According to a news release today from Banner:

"You might as well flip a coin," said Banner Good Samaritan microbiologist Dr. Michael Saubolle regarding the test's inadequacies. Saubolle is on the Banner Health Workgroup that is directing H1N1 testing and treatment protocols at Banner's 10 Valley hospitals and making recommendations to Banner hospitals in six other states.

A regular test for the swine flu virus will still be conducted for suspected flu victims. That test gives results in 24 to 72 hours.

Banner says patients suspected of carrying swine flu -- especially those at high risk for problems with the bug, like pregnant women -- will be "managed as if they have the virus until they can be cleared." If officials didn't do that, some folks might end up struggling for their lives before the regular test results came back.

Public health officials agree with Banner's decision, the Banner news release states.

The biggest problem with the false negatives is obvious: People who think they're not carriers may go back to work or school, which would help the virus spread.

Experts say the disease will account for many of the flu cases this flu season, but isn't likely to become as deadly as the 1918 pandemic.

Still, the start of a new school year and the viral it may bring is keeping health care workers worried. Kids may be cute and all, but they're also portable germ factories.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.