BACKGROUND: We evaluated the analytical sensitivity and specificity of 4 rapid antigen diagnostic tests (Ag RDTs) for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, using reverse transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) as the reference method and further characterizing samples using droplet digital quantitative PCR (ddPCR) and a mass spectrometric antigen test. METHODS: Three hundred fifty (150 negative and 200 RT-qPCR positive) residual PBS samples were tested for antigen using the BD Veritor lateral flow (LF), ACON LF, ACON fluorescence immunoassay (FIA), and LumiraDx FIA. ddPCR was performed on RT-qPCR–positive samples to quantitate the viral load in copies/ mL applied to each Ag RDT. Mass spectrometric antigen testing was performed on PBS samples to obtain a set of RT-qPCR–positive, antigen-positive samples for further analysis. RESULTS: All Ag RDTs had nearly 100% specificity compared to RT-qPCR. Overall analytical sensitivity varied from 66.5% to 88.3%. All methods detected antigen in samples with viral load >1 500 000 copies/mL RNA, and detected >75% of samples with viral load of 500 000 to 1 500 000 copies/mL. The BD Veritor LF detected only 25% of samples with viral load between 50 000 to 500 000 copies/mL, compared to 75% for the ACON LF device and >80% for LumiraDx and ACON FIA. The ACON FIA detected significantly more samples with viral load <50 000 copies/mL compared to the BD Veritor. Among samples with detectable antigen and viral load <50 000 copies/mL, sensitivity of the Ag RDT varied between 13.0% (BD Veritor) and 78.3% (ACON FIA). CONCLUSIONS: Ag RDTs differ significantly in analytical sensitivity, particularly at viral load <500 000 copies/mL.
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