Rapid antigen tests may be unreliable in children

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When used in children, rapid antigen tests for detecting the coronavirus do not meet accuracy criteria set by the World Health Organization and U.S. and UK device regulators, according to researchers who reviewed 17 studies of the tests.

The trials evaluated six brands of tests in more than 6,300 children and teenagers through May 2021. In all but one study, the tests were administered by trained workers.

Overall, compared to PCR tests, the antigen tests failed to detect the virus in 36% of infected children, the researchers reported in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine. Among children with symptoms, it missed 28% of infections. Among infected kids without symptoms, the tests missed the virus in 44%. Only about 1% of the time did the tests mistakenly diagnose the virus in a child who was not actually infected.

Given that more than 500 antigen tests are available in Europe alone, the authors said, “the performance of most antigen tests under real-life conditions remains unknown.” But the new findings “cast doubt on the effectiveness” of rapid antigen tests for widespread testing in schools, they concluded.

Photo – A COVID-19 rapid antigene self-test. EPA-EFE/PHILIPP GUELLAND

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