SARS-CoV-2 infection: use and effectiveness of antigenic swab for the health surveillance of healthcare workers

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Maurizio Coggiola
Rossana Cavallo
Eugenio Grillo
Roberto Frammartino
Giuseppe Clemente
Cristina Costa
Ida Marina Raciti
Carlo Silvestre
Gitana Scozzari
Ettore Paradisi
Alessandro Tuffanelli
Maria Carolina Alfonso Pensamiento
Alessandro Godono
Enrico Pira


Health surveillance, Biological risk, Negative predictive value, COVID-19


Background: The gold standard to identify SARS-CoV-2 infections is the Reverse Transcriptase-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) on rhino-pharyngeal swabs, but faster and cheaper methods such as antigenic swabs have been developed. A retrospective observational study on antigenic swabs included in the extraordinary health surveillance protocol of a large Hospital in Turin was aimed to assess their performance validity. Methods: From 30 October 2020 to 4 May 2021, 4000 antigenic swabs were carried out in three groups of healthcare workers (HCWs), respectively (i) asymptomatic, (ii) cohabiting with a positive case, and (iii) not recently exposed to the virus. 
Results: Overall sensitivity and specificity associated with a prevalence of 1.30% were 26.9%, 97.2%, respectively, the corresponding positive (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV) being 11.29% and 99.02% [95% IC (99.00 - 99.04)] respectively; a prevalence of 0.29% was observed in the asymptomatic group, among whom sensitivity and specificity were 25.0% and 98.9%, respectively, the corresponding PPV and NPV being 6.25% and 99.78% [95% IC (99.76 - 99.81)], respectively; the cohabitant group showed a prevalence of 21.11%, sensitivity and specificity were 47.4%, 81.7%, respectively, giving rise to a PPV of 40.91% and NPV of 85.29% [95% IC (85.18 – 85.41)] respectively. The prevalence in the not exposed group was 0.77%, sensitivity and specificity were 29.2%, 97.4%, respectively, and PPV and NPV 8.05% and 99.44% [95% IC (99.42 - 99.46)] respectively. Conclusions: Antigenic swabs reduced costs and provided reliable diagnostic results. In the cohabitant group, the higher-prevalence groups showed poor test performances, likely because of the high prevalence of pre-symptomatic illness in this group. Owing to the relatively low NPV, a negative result would still require confirmation with a molecular test to be acceptable for a surveillance program that effectively reduces the virus’s intra-hospital spread.


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