Quantifying the potential value of antigen-detection rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19: a modelling analysis

Saskia Ricks, Emily A. Kendall, David W. Dowdy, Jilian A. Sacks, Samuel G. Schumacher, Nimalan Arinaminpathy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Testing plays a critical role in treatment and prevention responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to nucleic acid tests (NATs), antigen-detection rapid diagnostic tests (Ag-RDTs) can be more accessible, but typically have lower sensitivity and specificity. By quantifying these trade-offs, we aimed to inform decisions about when an Ag-RDT would offer greater public health value than reliance on NAT. Methods: Following an expert consultation, we selected two use cases for analysis: rapid identification of people with COVID-19 amongst patients admitted with respiratory symptoms in a ‘hospital’ setting and early identification and isolation of people with mildly symptomatic COVID-19 in a ‘community’ setting. Using decision analysis, we evaluated the health system cost and health impact (deaths averted and infectious days isolated) of an Ag-RDT-led strategy, compared to a strategy based on NAT and clinical judgement. We adopted a broad range of values for ‘contextual’ parameters relevant to a range of settings, including the availability of NAT and the performance of clinical judgement. We performed a multivariate sensitivity analysis to all of these parameters. Results: In a hospital setting, an Ag-RDT-led strategy would avert more deaths than a NAT-based strategy, and at lower cost per death averted, when the sensitivity of clinical judgement is less than 90%, and when NAT results are available in time to inform clinical decision-making for less than 85% of patients. The use of an Ag-RDT is robustly supported in community settings, where it would avert more transmission at lower cost than relying on NAT alone, under a wide range of assumptions. Conclusions: Despite their imperfect sensitivity and specificity, Ag-RDTs have the potential to be simultaneously more impactful, and have a lower cost per death and infectious person-days averted, than current approaches to COVID-19 diagnostic testing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number75
JournalBMC medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Antigen
  • COVID-19
  • Rapid diagnostic tests

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Quantifying the potential value of antigen-detection rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19: a modelling analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this