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Rapid antigen testing for SARS-CoV-2 by lateral flow assay: A field evaluation of self- and professional testing at UK community testing sites.

BACKGROUND: The advent of lateral flow devices (LFDs) for SARS-CoV-2 detection enabled widespread use of rapid self-tests during the pandemic. While self-testing using LFDs is now common, whether self-testing provides comparable performance to professional testing was a key question that remained important for pandemic planning.

METHODS: Three prospective multi-centre studies were conducted to compare the performance of self- and professional testing using LFDs. Participants tested themselves or were tested by trained (professional) testers at community testing sites in the UK. Corresponding qRT-PCR test results served as reference standard. The performance of Innova, Orient Gene and SureScreen LFDs by users (self) and professional testers was assessed in terms of sensitivity, specificity, and kit failure (void) rates. Impact of age, sex and symptom status was analysed using logistic regression modelling.

RESULTS: 16,617 participants provided paired tests, of which 15,418 were included in the analysis. Self-testing with Innova, Orient Gene or SureScreen LFDs achieved sensitivities of 50 %, 53 % or 72 %, respectively, compared to qRT-PCR. Self and professional LFD testing showed no statistically different sensitivity with respect to corresponding qRT-PCR testing. Specificity was consistently equal to or higher than 99 %. Sex and age had no or only marginal impact on LFD performance while sensitivity was significantly higher for symptomatic individuals. Sensitivity of LFDs increased strongly to up to 90 % with higher levels of viral RNA measured by qRT-PCR.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results support SARS-CoV-2 self-testing with LFDs, especially for the detection of individuals whose qRT-PCR tests showed high viral concentrations.

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