Background: Rapid screening for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was important in the emergency department during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is the standard method for detecting SARS-CoV-2, but it requires several hours to provide results. Instead, the rapid antigen test (RAT) has a short turnaround time and can be used at the bedside but shows low sensitivity. To overcome these shortcomings, the clinical utility of stepwise testing of RAT with RT-PCR in the emergency department was analyzed.
Methods: Patients who underwent SARS-CoV-2 RAT (SD Biosensor or Abbott) and RT-PCR (Seegene Allplex or GeneXpert) testing simultaneously at the emergency department in South Korea from January 2021 to March 2022 were enrolled. We compared the performance status of RAT with that of RT-PCR and evaluated the clinical utility of RAT as a screening tool for patients visiting the emergency department.
Results: A total of 7,574 patients were included. The overall prevalence of COVID-19 was 1.9% (146/7,574). The sensitivity and specificity of the RAT were 69.2% and 99.9%, respectively, and the positive and negative predictive values were 96.2% and 99.4%, respectively. Based on the cycle threshold (Ct) of the E gene, the sensitivity was 86.0% in patients with Ct < 26, but the sensitivity was 9.3% in patients with Ct ≥ 26.
Conclusions: In the COVID-19 pandemic, RAT can be used as supplement test for the screening strategy using RT-PCR in the emergency department because it is rapid, highly specific, and relatively sensitive in patients with high viral load.