Cochrane Library Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Rapid, point-of-care antigen and molecular-based tests for diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection (Review)

April 19, 2021

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Authors’ conclusions

Antigen tests vary in sensitivity. In people with signs and symptoms of COVID‐19, sensitivities are highest in the first week of illness when viral loads are higher. The assays shown to meet appropriate criteria, such as WHO’s priority target product profiles for COVID‐19 diagnostics (‘acceptable’ sensitivity ≥ 80% and specificity ≥ 97%), can be considered as a replacement for laboratory‐based RT‐PCR when immediate decisions about patient care must be made, or where RT‐PCR cannot be delivered in a timely manner. Positive predictive values suggest that confirmatory testing of those with positive results may be considered in low prevalence settings. Due to the variable sensitivity of antigen tests, people who test negative may still be infected.

Evidence for testing in asymptomatic cohorts was limited. Test accuracy studies cannot adequately assess the ability of antigen tests to differentiate those who are infectious and require isolation from those who pose no risk, as there is no reference standard for infectiousness. A small number of molecular tests showed high accuracy and may be suitable alternatives to RT‐PCR. However, further evaluations of the tests in settings as they are intended to be used are required to fully establish performance in practice.

Several important studies in asymptomatic individuals have been reported since the close of our search and will be incorporated at the next update of this review. Comparative studies of antigen tests in their intended use settings and according to test operator (including self‐testing) are required.