Diagnostic accuracy of serological tests for covid-19: systematic review and meta-analysis

BMJ. 2020 Jul 1;370:m2516. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2516.

Abstract

Objective: To determine the diagnostic accuracy of serological tests for coronavirus disease-2019 (covid-19).

Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Data sources: Medline, bioRxiv, and medRxiv from 1 January to 30 April 2020, using subject headings or subheadings combined with text words for the concepts of covid-19 and serological tests for covid-19.

Eligibility criteria and data analysis: Eligible studies measured sensitivity or specificity, or both of a covid-19 serological test compared with a reference standard of viral culture or reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. Studies were excluded with fewer than five participants or samples. Risk of bias was assessed using quality assessment of diagnostic accuracy studies 2 (QUADAS-2). Pooled sensitivity and specificity were estimated using random effects bivariate meta-analyses.

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome was overall sensitivity and specificity, stratified by method of serological testing (enzyme linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs), lateral flow immunoassays (LFIAs), or chemiluminescent immunoassays (CLIAs)) and immunoglobulin class (IgG, IgM, or both). Secondary outcomes were stratum specific sensitivity and specificity within subgroups defined by study or participant characteristics, including time since symptom onset.

Results: 5016 references were identified and 40 studies included. 49 risk of bias assessments were carried out (one for each population and method evaluated). High risk of patient selection bias was found in 98% (48/49) of assessments and high or unclear risk of bias from performance or interpretation of the serological test in 73% (36/49). Only 10% (4/40) of studies included outpatients. Only two studies evaluated tests at the point of care. For each method of testing, pooled sensitivity and specificity were not associated with the immunoglobulin class measured. The pooled sensitivity of ELISAs measuring IgG or IgM was 84.3% (95% confidence interval 75.6% to 90.9%), of LFIAs was 66.0% (49.3% to 79.3%), and of CLIAs was 97.8% (46.2% to 100%). In all analyses, pooled sensitivity was lower for LFIAs, the potential point-of-care method. Pooled specificities ranged from 96.6% to 99.7%. Of the samples used for estimating specificity, 83% (10 465/12 547) were from populations tested before the epidemic or not suspected of having covid-19. Among LFIAs, pooled sensitivity of commercial kits (65.0%, 49.0% to 78.2%) was lower than that of non-commercial tests (88.2%, 83.6% to 91.3%). Heterogeneity was seen in all analyses. Sensitivity was higher at least three weeks after symptom onset (ranging from 69.9% to 98.9%) compared with within the first week (from 13.4% to 50.3%).

Conclusion: Higher quality clinical studies assessing the diagnostic accuracy of serological tests for covid-19 are urgently needed. Currently, available evidence does not support the continued use of existing point-of-care serological tests.

Study registration: PROSPERO CRD42020179452.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Betacoronavirus
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / standards*
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Humans
  • Immunoassay
  • Luminescent Measurements
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Serologic Tests / standards*

Substances

  • Antibodies, Viral

Supplementary concepts

  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 diagnostic testing
  • severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2