SARS-CoV-2 Viral Shedding and Rapid Antigen Test Performance — Respiratory Virus Transmission Network, November 2022–May 2023

RVTN-Sentinel Study Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As population immunity to SARS-CoV-2 evolves and new variants emerge, the role and accuracy of antigen tests remain active questions. To describe recent test performance, the detection of SARS-CoV-2 by antigen testing was compared with that by reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and viral culture testing during November 2022–May 2023. Participants who were enrolled in a household transmission study completed daily symptom diaries and collected two nasal swabs (tested for SARS-CoV-2 via RT-PCR, culture, and antigen tests) each day for 10 days after enrollment. Among participants with SARS-CoV-2 infection, the percentages of positive antigen, RT-PCR, and culture results were calculated each day from the onset of symptoms or, in asymptomatic persons, from the date of the first positive test result. Antigen test sensitivity was calculated using RT-PCR and viral culture as references. The peak percentage of positive antigen (59.0%) and RT-PCR (83.0%) results occurred 3 days after onset, and the peak percentage of positive culture results (52%) occurred 2 days after onset. The sensitivity of antigen tests was 47% (95% CI = 44%–50%) and 80% (95% CI = 76%–85%) using RT-PCR and culture, respectively, as references. Clinicians should be aware of the lower sensitivity of antigen testing compared with RT-PCR, which might lead to false-negative results. This finding has implications for timely initiation of SARS-CoV-2 antiviral treatment, when early diagnosis is essential; clinicians should consider RT-PCR for persons for whom antiviral treatment is recommended. Persons in the community who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness and eligible for antiviral treatment should seek testing from health care providers with the goal of obtaining a more sensitive diagnostic test than antigen tests (i.e., an RT-PCR test).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-371
Number of pages7
JournalMorbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 25 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Health(social science)
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Health Information Management


Dive into the research topics of 'SARS-CoV-2 Viral Shedding and Rapid Antigen Test Performance — Respiratory Virus Transmission Network, November 2022–May 2023'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this