Rapid antibody testing

There has been much media reporting about rapid test kits for COVID-19, which has in some cases been misleading and caused confusion.  Rapid testing is of course important, but understanding the facts behind the different tests and what they provide in terms of patient care and public health protection is equally vital.

Rapid antibody test kits for COVID-19 have very limited utility in diagnosis of an active case. They cannot show if someone is currently infected and at increased risk of becoming seriously ill or spreading the infection to others. Their utility in testing healthcare workers and high-risk groups in the current testing criteria is not yet established and advice from the Public Health Laboratory Network would counsel against widespread adoption.

Against the backdrop, NSW Health Pathology (NSWHP) has raised concerns about the quality and clinical utility of COVID-19 rapid antibody tests now on offer by a range of commercial vendors. NSWHP is undertaking a comprehensive scientific evaluation of a number of new rapid antibody test kits. In a first-of-a-kind evaluation in Australia by NSWHP, one such rapid antibody test kit has been shown to have limited value in diagnosing active cases and cannot reveal if someone is currently infected and at increased risk of becoming seriously ill or spreading the infection to others.

NSWHP has concluded this specific test kit could not be recommended for use in the diagnosis of acute infection, as a means of determining immunity in an individual, nor as a seroprevalence tool.  More work is underway to assess reliability and application of the new test kits.

Read more on NSWHP’s position and evaluation here.  (PDF 228KB)