Background: The performance of rapid antigen tests (Ag-RDTs) for screening asymptomatic and symptomatic persons for SARS-CoV-2 is not well established.
Objective: To evaluate the performance of Ag-RDTs for detection of SARS-CoV-2 among symptomatic and asymptomatic participants.
Design: This prospective cohort study enrolled participants between October 2021 and January 2022. Participants completed Ag-RDTs and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing for SARS-CoV-2 every 48 hours for 15 days.
Setting: Participants were enrolled digitally throughout the mainland United States. They self-collected anterior nasal swabs for Ag-RDTs and RT-PCR testing. Nasal swabs for RT-PCR were shipped to a central laboratory, whereas Ag-RDTs were done at home.
Participants: Of 7361 participants in the study, 5353 who were asymptomatic and negative for SARS-CoV-2 on study day 1 were eligible. In total, 154 participants had at least 1 positive RT-PCR result.
Measurements: The sensitivity of Ag-RDTs was measured on the basis of testing once (same-day), twice (after 48 hours), and thrice (after a total of 96 hours). The analysis was repeated for different days past index PCR positivity (DPIPPs) to approximate real-world scenarios where testing initiation may not always coincide with DPIPP 0. Results were stratified by symptom status.
Results: Among 154 participants who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, 97 were asymptomatic and 57 had symptoms at infection onset. Serial testing with Ag-RDTs twice 48 hours apart resulted in an aggregated sensitivity of 93.4% (95% CI, 90.4% to 95.9%) among symptomatic participants on DPIPPs 0 to 6. When singleton positive results were excluded, the aggregated sensitivity on DPIPPs 0 to 6 for 2-time serial testing among asymptomatic participants was lower at 62.7% (CI, 57.0% to 70.5%), but it improved to 79.0% (CI, 70.1% to 87.4%) with testing 3 times at 48-hour intervals.
Limitation: Participants tested every 48 hours; therefore, these data cannot support conclusions about serial testing intervals shorter than 48 hours.
Conclusion: The performance of Ag-RDTs was optimized when asymptomatic participants tested 3 times at 48-hour intervals and when symptomatic participants tested 2 times separated by 48 hours.
Primary funding source: National Institutes of Health RADx Tech program.