Comparative evaluation of four SARS-CoV-2 antigen tests in hospitalized patients

Int J Infect Dis. 2021 Feb 17;105:144-146. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2021.02.052. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Rapid identification of infected subjects is a cornerstone for controlling a pandemic like the current one with the SARS-CoV-2. Easy to handle antigen tests can provide timely results, which is of particular importance in a primary care setting. However, concerns exist regarding their sensitivity, which led us to evaluate four commercially available tests in patients hospitalized for COVID-19.

Methods: We analyzed in parallel nasopharyngeal/oropharyngeal swabs from 154 consecutive patients admitted to our department with moderate to severe COVID-19, using quantitative RT-PCR (Cobas, Roche) and up to four antigen tests from different distributors. Antigen test results were linked to Ct (cycle threshold) values as markers for patients' infectivity.

Results: We found that two out of four antigen tests correctly identified subjects with high viral loads (Ct≤25), and three out of four tests detected more than 80% of subjects with a Ct≤30, which is considered the threshold for infectivity. However, one test investigated had a poor clinical performance. When investigating subjects with Ct values >30, we found that the antigen test was still positive in up to 45% of those cases.

Conclusion: Most antigen tests had a sufficient sensitivity to identify symptomatic subjects infected with SARS-CoV-2 and with transmissible infection. On the other hand, antigen testing may not be suitable to identify loss of infectivity in COVID-19 subjects during follow-up. Newly introduced antigen tests need to be validated in a clinical or primary care setting to define their clinical usefulness.

Keywords: Antigen test; COVID-19; Ct values; Infectivity; RT-PCR; SARS-CoV-2.