Background The most sensitive method to detect SARS-CoV-2 relies on rRT-PCR; however, viral RNA can be detected weeks/months after clinical resolution. Since rRT-PCR cannot discern between non- and infectious virus, it is unclear whether the presence of viral RNA after recovery reflects infectious SARS-CoV-2. However, recent studies suggest a positive correlation between antigen rapid tests (Ag-RDT) and virus isolation that is more suited to assess contagiousness.
Objectives To assess the utility of SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests in different settings we evaluated the performance of Ag-RDT-based and a cell culture-based SARS-CoV-2 assay in comparison to rRT-PCR.
Study design A total of 61 Nasopharyngeal-Swabs tested positive by cobasⓇ SARS-CoV-2 rRT-PCR were in parallel evaluated with the Roche Ag-RDT and a cell culture-based assay to detect SARS-CoV-2.
Results SARS-CoV-2 was successfully isolated in 51/61 samples corresponding to 83.6%, which was 97.3% or 96.2% when considering samples with E-gene Ct-value <25 and <28, respectively. In comparison, the Ag-RDT showed an overall sensitivity of 85.2%, that increased to 100% and 96.2% using an E-gene Ct-value cut-off of <25 and <28, respectively. There was an overall good agreement between the commercial Ag-RDT and our in-house cell culture-based SARS-CoV-2 detection assay. However, SARS-CoV-2 could be isolated from two samples that tested negative by Ag-RDT.
Conclusions Our results support the use of the Roche Ag-RDT to detect SARS-CoV-2 exposure in large scale populations. However, it is recommended to use rRT-PCR, potentially in conjunction with cell culture-based SARS-CoV-2 assay, to support clinicians in making decisions regarding fragile patient groups.