Evaluation of false positives in the SARS-CoV-2 quantitative antigen test

J Infect Chemother. 2021 Oct;27(10):1477-1481. doi: 10.1016/j.jiac.2021.06.019. Epub 2021 Jun 25.


Introduction: Highly sensitive reagents for detecting SARS-CoV-2 antigens have been developed for accurate and rapid diagnosis till date. In this study, we aim to clarify the frequency of false-positive reactions and reveal their details in SARS-CoV-2 quantitative antigen test using an automated laboratory device.

Methods: Nasopharyngeal swab samples (n = 4992) and saliva samples (n = 5430) were collected. We measured their SARS-CoV-2 antigen using Lumipulse® Presto SARS-CoV-2 Ag and performed a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) using the Ampdirect™ 2019 Novel Coronavirus Detection Kit as needed. The results obtained from each detection test were compared accordingly.

Results: There were 304 nasopharyngeal samples and 114 saliva samples were positive in the Lumipulse® Presto SARS-CoV-2 Ag test. All positive nasopharyngeal samples in the antigen test were also positive for NAAT. In contrast, only three (2.6%) of all the positive saliva samples in the antigen test were negative for NAAT. One showed no linearity with a dilute solution in the dilution test. Additionally, the quantitative antigen levels of all the three samples did not decrease after reaction with the anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody.

Conclusions: The judgment difference between the quantitative antigen test and NAAT seemed to be caused by non-specific reactions in the antigen test. Although the high positive and negative predictive value of this quantitative antigen test could be confirmed, we should consider the possibility of false-positives caused by non-specific reactions and understand the characteristics of antigen testing. We recommend that repeating centrifugation before measurement, especially in saliva samples, should be performed appropriately.

Keywords: Antigen; Detection; Non-specific reaction; SARS-CoV-2.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Humans
  • Nasopharynx
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Saliva
  • Sensitivity and Specificity