Abstract

IMPORTANCE: Self- or health care worker (HCW)-collected nasal swab specimens are the preferred sampling method to perform rapid antigen testing for COVID-19, but it is debated whether throat specimens can improve test sensitivity.

OBJECTIVE: To compare the diagnostic accuracy of self- and HCW-collected nasal vs throat swab specimens for COVID-19 rapid antigen testing.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This per-protocol multicenter randomized clinical trial was conducted from February 15 through March 25, 2022. The participants, individuals aged 16 years or older requesting a COVID-19 test for diagnostic or screening purposes, had 4 specimens collected for individual testing at 1 of 2 urban COVID-19 outpatient test centers in Copenhagen, Denmark.

INTERVENTIONS: Participants were randomized 1:1 to self-collected or HCW-collected nasal and throat swab specimens for rapid antigen testing. Additional HCW-collected nasal and throat swab specimens for reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) were used as the reference standard.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: The primary outcome was sensitivity to diagnose COVID-19 of a self- vs HCW-collected nasal and throat specimen for rapid antigen testing compared with RT-PCR.

RESULTS: Of 2941 participants enrolled, 2674 (90.9%) had complete test results and were included in the final analysis (1535 [57.4%] women; median age, 40 years [IQR, 28-55 years]); 1074 (40.2%) had COVID-19 symptoms, and 827 (30.9%) were positive for SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR. Health care worker-collected throat specimens had higher mean sensitivity than HCW-collected nasal specimens for rapid antigen testing (69.4% [95% CI, 65.1%-73.6%] vs 60.0% [95% CI, 55.4%-64.5%]). However, a subgroup analysis of symptomatic participants found that self-collected nasal specimens were more sensitive than self-collected throat specimens for rapid antigen testing (mean sensitivity, 71.5% [95% CI, 65.3%-77.6%] vs 58.0% [95% CI, 51.2%-64.7%]; P < .001). Combining nasal and throat specimens increased sensitivity for HCW- and self-collected specimens by 21.4 and 15.5 percentage points, respectively, compared with a single nasal specimen (both P < .001).

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: This randomized clinical trial found that a single HCW-collected throat specimen had higher sensitivity for rapid antigen testing for SARS-CoV-2 than a nasal specimen. In contrast, the self-collected nasal specimens had higher sensitivity than throat specimens for symptomatic participants. Adding a throat specimen to the standard practice of collecting a single nasal specimen could improve sensitivity for rapid antigen testing in health care and home-based settings.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT05209178.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2344295
JournalJAMA network open
Volume6
Issue number12
ISSN2574-3805
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023

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