Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, laboratories have been using nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs), such as real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) assays, to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease. In
many countries, access to this form of testing has been challenging. The search is on to develop reliable but less expensive and faster diagnostic tests that detect antigens specific for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Antigen-detection diagnostic tests are designed to directly detect SARS- CoV-2 proteins produced by replicating virus in respiratory secretions and have been developed as both laboratory-based tests, and for near-patient use, so-called rapid diagnostic tests, or RDTs. The diagnostic development landscape is dynamic, with nearly a hundred companies developing or manufacturing rapid tests for SARS-CoV-2 antigen detection.
This document offers advice on the potential role of antigen-detecting RDTs (Ag-RDT) in the diagnosis of COVID-19 and the need for careful test selection. The information on Ag-RDTs in this document updates guidance that was included in the Scientific Brief
entitled WHO Advice on use of point of care immunodiagnostics test for COVID-19 published on 8 April 2020. Guidance on the use of Ag-RDTs will be regularly updated as new evidence becomes available.