The Light and Shadow of Rapid Serological Tests for SARS-CoV-2 Infection: Results from a Study in a Large Emergency Department

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Sep 7;17(18):E6493. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17186493.


A critical point in the management of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is the need to promptly identify the greatest number of infected people and to implement strict public health measures. In this study, the performance of a rapid serological test in a clinical setting was evaluated. Samples from 819 consecutive patients (with or without respiratory symptoms) admitted to a large Emergency Department were tested between 23 March and 21 April 2020. Patient samples were tested in a real-time PCR assay and a serological assay. In total, 148/819 patients (18.1%) tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 by real-time PCR. The serological test revealed that 70/819 patients (8.5%) had anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgM and/or IgG. The prevalence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies was significantly higher in patients with respiratory symptoms lasting for >7 days than in those with respiratory symptoms lasting for 0-7 days (p < 0.001). The serological assay had an overall sensitivity of 35.1% and an overall specificity of 97.3%. A high negative predictive value (96.7%) was reported for patients without respiratory symptoms. The results confirm that rapid serological assays alone are not sufficient for diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection but can be incorporated into large-scale screening programs during periods in which the virus circulation is low.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2 infection; laboratory test; real-time PCR; serological test.