Laboratory Tests for COVID-19: A Review of Peer-Reviewed Publications and Implications for Clinical UIse

Mo Med. May-Jun 2020;117(3):184-195.


Diagnostic tests for the coronavirus infection 2019 (COVID-19) are critical for prompt diagnosis, treatment and isolation to break the cycle of transmission. A positive real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), in conjunction with clinical and epidemiologic data, is the current standard for diagnosis, but several challenges still exist. Serological assays help to understand epidemiology better and to evaluate vaccine responses but they are unreliable for diagnosis in the acute phase of illness or assuming protective immunity. Serology is gaining attention, mainly because of convalescent plasma gaining importance as treatment for clinically worsening COVID-19 patients. We provide a narrative review of peer-reviewed research studies on RT-PCR, serology and antigen immune-assays for COVID-19, briefly describe their lab methods and discuss their limitations for clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / standards*
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques / standards
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / standards*

Supplementary concepts

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