CDC dismisses whistleblower claims on Zika test

CDC dismisses whistleblower claims on Zika test
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A leading official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is rejecting claims that the agency has been knowingly promoting a less effective test for the Zika virus.

The public health agency has been hit with criticism this week after one of its own top scientists alleged that CDC officials had recommended the use of a Zika test that is far less effective than another existing test.

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The whistleblower, Robert Lanciotti, told The Washington Post Tuesday that he was demoted this summer after trying to call attention to his concerns about the test, which he said missed nearly 40 percent of Zika infections.

Without specifically referring to Lanciotti’s claims, CDC Deputy Director Anne Schuchat defended the agency Wednesday.

“We are using the best tests available, but they could be much, much better,” Schuchat said during an interview at the Atlantic Ideas Forum when asked about the allegations.

Schuchat said the agency has “already updated the the tests we have been using.” In an internal report cited by the Post in the wake of Lanciotti’s claims, CDC officials said they have worked to make the new test more sensitive.

In that report, the CDC also dismissed Lanciotti’s allegation that it had withheld important testing information from state health labs. The CDC said sharing that conflicting test data could have created "considerable confusion during an ongoing emergency response," according to the investigation.

Schuchat did acknowledge the severe shortcomings of the current test.  

“The test we have right now is, ‘I have it right now’ or ‘I’ve had it recently,’ but there’s a lot of false positives,” she said.

Zika has been particularly difficult to diagnose because tests are frequently inaccurate when determining whether a person has had Zika or another similar virus.