HCW-Collected Throat Specimen Had Higher Sensitivity for Rapid Antigen Testing for SARS-CoV-2 Than Nasal Specimen

Self- or healthcare 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. Todsen, et al. (2023) sought to compare the diagnostic accuracy of self- and HCW-collected nasal vs throat swab specimens for COVID-19 rapid antigen testing.

This per-protocol multicenter randomized clinical trial was conducted from Feb. 15 through March 25, 2022. The participants, individuals aged 16 years or older requesting a COVID-19 test for diagnostic or screening purposes, had four specimens collected for individual testing at one of two urban COVID-19 outpatient test centers in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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.

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. Healthcare 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).

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.

Reference: Todsen T, et al. COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Tests With Self-Collected vs Health Care Worker–Collected Nasal and Throat Swab Specimens: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(12):e2344295. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.44295