Diagnostic performance of different sampling approaches for SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR testing: a systematic review and meta-analysis.


Hong Kong Research Grants Council.

The comparative performance of different clinical sampling methods for diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection by RT-PCR among populations with suspected infection remains unclear. This meta-analysis aims to systematically compare the diagnostic performance of different clinical specimen collection methods.

Our review suggests that, compared with the gold standard of nasopharyngeal swabs, pooled nasal and throat swabs offered the best diagnostic performance of the alternative sampling approaches for diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection in ambulatory care. Saliva and nasal swabs gave comparable and very good diagnostic performance and are clinically acceptable alternative specimen collection methods. Throat swabs gave a much lower sensitivity and positive predictive value and should not be recommended. Self-collection for pooled nasal and throat swabs and nasal swabs was not associated with any significant impairment of diagnostic accuracy. Our results also provide a useful reference framework for the proper interpretation of SARS-CoV-2 testing results using different clinical specimens.

In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we systematically searched PubMed, Embase, MEDLINE, Web of Science, medRxiv, bioRxiv, SSRN, and Research Square from Jan 1, 2000, to Nov 16, 2020. We included original clinical studies that examined the performance of nasopharyngeal swabs and any additional respiratory specimens for the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection among individuals presenting in ambulatory care. Studies without data on paired samples, or those that only examined different samples from confirmed SARS-CoV-2 cases were not useful for examining diagnostic performance of a test and were excluded. Diagnostic performance, including sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and negative predictive value, was examined using random effects models and double arcsine transformation.

 ≥30%) was observed in studies on saliva and nasal swabs.

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