What if you test positive on a lateral flow test after isolating for 10 days?

Although some people can celebrate Christmas with their families as planned now no new coronavirus restrictions have been confirmed at the moment, for many, the festive season still hangs in the balance.

With a record-breaking estimated 1.4 million people recorded as having Covid-19 at the end of last week, thousands will be desperate to leave self-isolation so they can visit their relatives and friends.

And with the immediate introduction of a cut to seven days in quarantine for people with negative tests, it seemed Christmas could be saved for some.

But in order to leave isolation early, two lateral flow tests must be negative 24 hours apart from day six onwards. If they remain positive, the full 10 days of quarantine must still be completed.

Some people are finding they are still testing positive on lateral flow tests late on in the 10-day isolation period, and even after it ends.

This has left many anxious about what to do after their quarantine period finishes, and fearing they might still be infectious – particularly if they are visiting vulnerable and elderly people over Christmas.

In a discussion on social media many expressed confusion, saying they understood from previous guidance that both PCR and lateral flow devices could show up as positive for up to 90 days after recovering from a coronavirus infection.

With the guidance initially appearing unclear, Metro.co.uk did some research into what to do if you are still positive on a lateral flow test on your tenth day of isolation or later.

The science

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the US national public health agency, evidence indicates that patients with mild to moderate Covid-19 – therefore, the majority of people – remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptoms appear.

Although these people may test positive for up to three months after recovering from infection, research suggests ‘replication-competent virus has not been reliably recovered and infectiousness is unlikely’. So it is safe to leave isolation.

It is only in patients with ‘more severe to critical illness or those who are severely immunocompromised’, i.e. have been hospitalised, who may be infectious for longer – thought to be up to 20 days.

Test and Trace experts

Finally, Metro.co.uk called the NHS coronavirus helpline on 119 to hear the facts directly from the experts.

After having to pick through a large number of menus, someone from the Test and Trace team answered the call very quickly and was incredibly friendly and helpful.

They said ‘unless you still have a fever or are really ill’ there is no need to continue isolating if you receive a positive lateral flow test on the tenth day of quarantine or later.

The worker explained it is still possible to get a positive result on a PCR test or lateral flow device for up to 90 days after infection.

They stressed ‘you don’t need a negative test’ to leave isolation and ‘you will not still be infectious’.

Leftover ‘residue’ from the virus in the body is what can cause tests to come up positive in the weeks afterwards but ‘you won’t be passing it on’, the Test and Trace staff member added.

TLDR: Even if you still test positive on lateral flow tests after completing your isolation period of 10 days, it is still safe to leave quarantine as long as you don’t still have a fever or heavy symptoms.

READ MORE: How accurate are lateral flow tests and how long do the results last?

READ MORE: Covid results can ‘expire in hours’ as people urged to test just before meet-ups

READ MORE: Do lateral flow tests detect the Omicron Covid-19 variant?

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