Background: Timely diagnosis of influenza can help clinical management.
Purpose: To examine the accuracy of rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs) in adults and children with influenza-like illness and evaluate factors associated with higher accuracy.
Data sources: PubMed and EMBASE through December 2011; BIOSIS and Web of Science through March 2010; and citations of articles, guidelines, reviews, and manufacturers.
Study selection: Studies that compared RIDTs with a reference standard of either reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (first choice) or viral culture.
Data extraction: Reviewers abstracted study data by using a standardized form and assessed quality by using Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies criteria.
Data synthesis: 159 studies evaluated 26 RIDTs, and 35% were conducted during the H1N1 pandemic. Failure to report whether results were assessed in a blinded manner and the basis for patient recruitment were important quality concerns. The pooled sensitivity and specificity were 62.3% (95% CI, 57.9% to 66.6%) and 98.2% (CI, 97.5% to 98.7%), respectively. The positive and negative likelihood ratios were 34.5 (CI, 23.8 to 45.2) and 0.38 (CI, 0.34 to 0.43), respectively. Sensitivity estimates were highly heterogeneous, which was partially explained by lower sensitivity in adults (53.9% [CI, 47.9% to 59.8%]) than in children (66.6% [CI, 61.6% to 71.7%]) and a higher sensitivity for influenza A (64.6% [CI, 59.0% to 70.1%) than for influenza B (52.2% [CI, 45.0% to 59.3%).
Limitation: Incomplete reporting limited the ability to assess the effect of important factors, such as specimen type and duration of influenza symptoms, on diagnostic accuracy.
Conclusion: Influenza can be ruled in but not ruled out through the use of RIDTs. Sensitivity varies across populations, but it is higher in children than in adults and for influenza A than for influenza B.
Primary funding source: Canadian Institutes of Health Research.