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Sensitivity and potential utility of SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen and nucleic acid amplification tests in the context of an elimination approach


To assess the sensitivity and potential utility of five RATs and the IDNow, Liat and Oxsed nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) in our population, 39 retrospective and contrived SARS-CoV-2 positive samples were tested in parallel by standard RT-PCR and RAT. A second group of 44 samples was tested by standard RT-PCR, rapid RT-PCR and two isothermal NAAT assays. Limit of detection was compared at RT-PCR cycle thresholds for all assays. We found that the Cobas Liat RT-PCR had 100% concordance with conventional RT-PCR, whereas the sensitivity of other rapid NAAT assays was less at lower viral loads indicated by Cts >30 (p=0.042) and the RATs at Cts >25 (p <0.001). When applied to New Zealand testing scenarios, IDNow or Oxsed NAAT could miss up to 12% and RATs up to 44.3% of COVID-19 cases compared with the RT-PCR currently used at our laboratory. We found that the POC Cobas Liat, a platform that delivers a sample answer in 20 minutes, demonstrated equivalent performance to standard RT-PCR. However, the RATs and isothermal NAAT assays demonstrated reduced sensitivity, limiting their utility in New Zealand’s currently very low prevalence setting.

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