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The pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to affect much of the world. Knowledge of diagnostic tests for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is still evolving, and a clear understanding of the nature of the tests and interpretation of their findings is important. This Viewpoint describes how to interpret 2 types of diagnostic tests commonly in use for SARS-CoV-2 infections—reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and IgM and IgG enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)—and how the results may vary over time (Figure).
Thus far, the most commonly used and reliable test for diagnosis of COVID-19 has been the RT-PCR test performed using nasopharyngeal swabs or other upper respiratory tract specimens, including throat swab or, more recently, saliva. A variety of RNA gene targets are used by different manufacturers, with most tests targeting 1 or more of the envelope (env), nucleocapsid (N), spike (S), RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp), and ORF1 genes. The sensitivities of the tests to individual genes are comparable according to comparison studies except the RdRp-SARSr (Charité) primer probe, which has a slightly lower sensitivity likely due to a mismatch in the reverse primer.1
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Sethuraman N, Jeremiah SS, Ryo A. Interpreting Diagnostic Tests for SARS-CoV-2. JAMA. 2020;323(22):2249–2251. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.8259
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