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. 2020 Jul;168:105980.
doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2020.105980. Epub 2020 Apr 21.

Diagnostic Performance Between CT and Initial Real-Time RT-PCR for Clinically Suspected 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Patients Outside Wuhan, China

Free PMC article

Diagnostic Performance Between CT and Initial Real-Time RT-PCR for Clinically Suspected 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Patients Outside Wuhan, China

Jian-Long He et al. Respir Med. .
Free PMC article


Introduction: Chest CT is thought to be sensitive but less specific in diagnosing the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The diagnostic value of CT is unclear. We aimed to compare the performance of CT and initial RT-PCR for clinically suspected COVID-19 patients outside the epicentre-Wuhan, China.

Materials and methods: Patients clinically suspected of COVID-19 infection who underwent initial RT-PCR and chest CT at the same time were retrospectively enrolled. Two radiologists with specific training reviewed the CT images independently and final diagnoses of the presence or absence of COVID-19 was reached by consensus. With serial RT-PCR as reference standard, the performance of initial RT-PCR and chest CT was analysed. A strategy of combining initial RT-PCR and chest CT was analysed to study the additional benefit.

Results: 82 patients admitted to hospital between Jan 10, 2020 to Feb 28, 2020 were enrolled. 34 COVID-19 and 48 non-COVID-19 patients were identified by serial RT-PCR. The sensitivity, specificity was 79% (27/34) and 100% (48/48) for initial RT-PCR and 77% (26/34) and 96% (46/48) for chest CT. The image readers had a good interobserver agreement with Cohen's kappa of 0.69. No statistical difference was found in the diagnostic performance between initial RT-PCR and chest CT. The comprehensive strategy had a higher sensitivity of 94% (32/34).

Conclusions: Initial RT-PCR and chest CT had comparable diagnostic performance in identification of suspected COVID-19 patients outside the epidemic center. To compensate potential risk of false-negative PCR, chest CT should be applied for clinically suspected patients with negative initial RT-PCR.

Keywords: Coronavirus infections; Lung diseases; Pneumonia; Tomography; X-ray computed.

Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of competing interest The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Flowchart of this study RT-PCR: reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction COVID-19: novel coronavirus disease 2019.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
False negative CT images A. Axial CT image of a 64-year-old woman shows bronchiectasis (arrow head) without any evidence of GGO. Initial RT-PCR was negative. She was confirmed COVID-19 at the third RT-PCR during quarantine observation. B. Axial CT image of a 32-year-old woman. The patchy sub-pleural GGO (red frame) was the only positive finding. Her initial RT-PCR was positive.

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