Test, trace, isolate: Evidence for declining SARS-CoV-2 PCR sensitivity in a clinical cohort

Barbara J.M. Bergmans, Chantal B.E.M. Reusken, Anne J.G. Van Oudheusden, Gert-Jan Godeke, Axel A. Bonačić Marinović, Esther De Vries, Yvette C.M. Kluiters-de Hingh, Ralf Vingerhoets, Marvin A.H. Berrevoets, Jaco J. Verweij, An-Emmie Nieman, Johan Reimerink, Jean-Luc. Murk, Arno Swart*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) on upper respiratory tract (URT) samples is the primary method to diagnose SARS-CoV-2 infections and guide public health measures, with a supportive role for serology. We reinforce previous findings on limited sensitivity of PCR testing, and solidify this fact by statistically utilizing a firm basis of multiple tests per individual. We integrate stratifications with respect to several patient characteristics such as severity of disease and time since onset of symptoms. Bayesian statistical modelling was used to retrospectively determine the sensitivity of RT-PCR using SARS-CoV-2 serology in 644 COVID-19-suspected patients with varying degrees of disease severity and duration. The sensitivity of RT-PCR ranged between 80% − 95%; increasing with disease severity, it decreased rapidly over time in mild COVID-19 cases. Negative URT RT-PCR results should be interpreted in the context of clinical characteristics, especially with regard to containment of viral transmission based on ‘test, trace and isolate’.
Original languageEnglish
Article number115392
JournalDiagnostic Microbiology and Infectious Disease
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • SARS-CoV-2
  • rt-pcr
  • serology
  • Public Health


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