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Performance Evaluation of Lateral Flow Assays for Coronavirus Disease-19 Serology

Published:November 02, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cll.2021.10.005

      Keywords

      Key points

      • Lateral flow assays (LFAs) are affordable and easy-to-use serologic assays for SARS-CoV-2.
      • LFAs are amenable for home testing and community seroprevalence monitoring efforts.
      • Evaluation of LFAs includes both laboratory assessment of performance characteristics and fitness for implementation.
      • The utility of LFAs should adapt to vaccine rollouts and emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variant strains.

      Introduction

      The coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19), caused by infection with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) has undoubtedly been the most disruptive pandemic of the last century.
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      State of the globe: the trials and tribulations of the COVID-19 pandemic: Separated but together, telemedicine revolution, frontline Struggle against "Silent Hypoxia," the relentless Search for novel therapeutics and vaccines, and the daunting prospect of "COVIFLU".
      Despite global advances in testing, the true burden of COVID-19 in most countries still remains unclear and is continuously evolving.
      • Dong E.
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      An interactive web-based dashboard to track COVID-19 in real time.
      Reports of prevalence rates thus far have relied on positive SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis using gold standard molecular diagnostics and rapid antigen tests.
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      COVID-19 diagnostic approaches: different roads to the same destination.
      On the other hand, seroprevalence studies estimate the rates of prior exposure to the virus in each population by gauging the proportion of individuals with antibodies against the virus.
      • Peeling R.W.
      • Wedderburn C.J.
      • Garcia P.J.
      • et al.
      Serology testing in the COVID-19 pandemic response.
      ,
      • Arora R.K.
      • Joseph A.
      • Van Wyk J.
      • et al.
      SeroTracker: a global SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence dashboard.
      These estimates of the true extent of herd immunity in different communities
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      Five reasons why COVID herd immunity is probably impossible.
      ,
      • Kissler S.M.
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      • Goldstein E.
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      Projecting the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 through the postpandemic period.
      could inform public health action and unveil disparities in the susceptibilities of diverse communities to infection with SARS-CoV-2.
      • Saffary T.
      • Adegboye O.A.
      • Gayawan E.
      • et al.
      Analysis of COVID-19 cases' Spatial dependence in US counties reveals health inequalities.
      ,
      • Tan T.Q.
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      • Swartz T.H.
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      Location matters: geographic disparities and impact of coronavirus disease 2019.
      As several vaccines are administered globally,
      • Yamey G.
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      • Hatchett R.
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      Ensuring global access to COVID-19 vaccines.
      monitoring longevity of immune responses induced by vaccination or natural infection with SARS-CoV-2 should inform public health measures to prioritize high-risk populations, such as informal settlements with lower socioeconomic statuses,
      • Shaw J.A.
      • Meiring M.
      • Cummins T.
      • et al.
      Higher SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in workers with lower socioeconomic status in Cape Town, South Africa.
      for vaccinations or to implement containment measures, such as lockdowns and travel restrictions. Serologic lateral flow assays (LFAs) provide an affordable and scalable solution to rapidly monitor seroprevalence and attainment of herd immunity.
      • Batchi-Bouyou A.L.
      • Lobaloba L.
      • Ndounga M.
      • et al.
      High SARS-COV2 IgG/IGM seroprevalence in asymptomatic Congolese in Brazzaville, the republic of Congo.
      ,
      • George C.E.
      • Inbaraj L.R.
      • Chandrasingh S.
      • et al.
      High seroprevalence of COVID-19 infection in a large slum in South India; what does it tell us about managing a pandemic and beyond?.
      Here, we review the global context and use cases in which serologic tests are deployed, with a specific focus on LFAs. We review considerations for designing studies to evaluate LFAs, particularly in the context of COVID-19 vaccinations and emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants and provide guidance for implementation of LFAs for both home use and population surveillance.

      SARS-CoV-2 Diagnostics

      To date, diagnosis has played an important role in monitoring and managing SARS-CoV-2 infections.
      • Arevalo-Rodriguez I.
      • Seron P.
      • Buitrago-Garcia D.
      • et al.
      Recommendations for SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 testing: a scoping review of current guidance.
      COVID-19 tests can be broadly classified into molecular diagnostics, antigen-detection tests (rapid tests), and serologic diagnostics, which detect anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
      • Kumar R.
      • Nagpal S.
      • Kaushik S.
      • et al.
      COVID-19 diagnostic approaches: different roads to the same destination.
      ,
      • Tahmasebi S.
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      • Esmaeilzadeh A.
      The outlook for diagnostic purposes of the 2019-novel coronavirus disease.
      Molecular and antigen tests detect active viral infections, whereas serologic tests indicate prior exposure to the virus by measuring SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies.
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      ,
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      The role of antibody testing for SARS-CoV-2: is there one?.
      Gold-standard point-of-care molecular tests currently rely on the detection of ribonucleic acid (RNA) from SARS-CoV-2 by reverse transcriptase-quantitative polymerase chain reactions (RT-qPCR).
      • Hellou M.M.
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      • et al.
      Nucleic-acid-amplification tests from respiratory samples for the diagnosis of coronavirus infections: systematic review and meta-analysis.
      Rapid antigen tests detect viral antigens, and offer an attractive option for affordable and scalable diagnostics, especially for mass community surveillance.
      • Toptan T.
      • Eckermann L.
      • Pfeiffer A.E.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of a SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen test: potential to help reduce community spread?.
      • Pilarowski G.
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      Performance characteristics of a rapid SARS-CoV-2 antigen detection assay at a public plaza testing site in San Francisco.
      • Pollock N.R.
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      • Tran K.
      • et al.
      Performance and implementation evaluation of the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen test in a high-throughput drive-through community testing site in Massachusetts.
      However, both molecular and rapid antigen tests only detect active infections, and do not assess prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the extent of transmission that had already occurred in a population, or immune status and durability of antibody responses.
      • Deeks J.J.
      • Dinnes J.
      • Takwoingi Y.
      • et al.
      Antibody tests for identification of current and past infection with SARS-CoV-2.
      Serologic tests can be useful epidemiologic tools for monitoring the infection prevalence and herd immunity in diverse populations.
      • Peeling R.W.
      • Wedderburn C.J.
      • Garcia P.J.
      • et al.
      Serology testing in the COVID-19 pandemic response.
      As LFAs are cheap and scalable, they are the most amenable form of serologic assays to fulfill these individual and epidemiologic needs.
      • Peeling R.W.
      • Wedderburn C.J.
      • Garcia P.J.
      • et al.
      Serology testing in the COVID-19 pandemic response.

      Need for Validated Serologic Tests for Coronavirus Disease of 2019

      Since the beginning of the pandemic, diagnostic tests and serologic assays have flooded the market. Test developers took advantage of the emergency use authorization (EUA) process by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) locally, and regulatory bodies internationally, including the European Commission, Ministry of Health in Canada, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the United Kingdom, and the World Health Organization (WHO), to release their products to the market before completing detailed evaluations.
      • Badnjevic A.
      • Pokvic L.G.
      • Dzemic Z.
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      Risks of emergency use authorizations for medical products during outbreak situations: a COVID-19 case study.
      Many serologic tests obtained EUA by the FDA, or equivalent regulatory approvals, for example, interim order (IO) authorizations or Conformité Européenne (CE) marks, with evaluations that were often based on samples from a small number of patients, which were not always representative of the entire susceptible population (e.g., symptomatic patients only).
      • Lisboa Bastos M.
      • Tavaziva G.
      • Abidi S.K.
      • et al.
      Diagnostic accuracy of serological tests for covid-19: systematic review and meta-analysis.
      Therefore, these evaluations limited the reliability and generalizability of tests to estimate the true extent of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in diverse community settings. Hence, standardized protocols for rigorous evaluations of these tests by manufacturer-independent third parties became crucial to determine their accuracy and usability in an unbiased way.
      • Page M.
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      Diagnostics and the coronavirus: don't let the standards slip.
      Importantly, the increased reliance on antibody tests as “immunity passports” demands their careful evaluation, as well as community education on the interpretation of the test results, to prevent premature assumptions of immunity against SARS-CoV-2.
      • Brown R.C.H.
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      The scientific and ethical feasibility of immunity passports.
      • Waller J.
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      Immunity Passports' for SARS-CoV-2: an online experimental study of the impact of antibody test terminology on perceived risk and behaviour.
      WHO. "Immunity passports" in the context of COVID-19. World Health Organization commentaries.

      World Health Organization Guidance on Serologic Testing

      Since mid-2020, the WHO has advocated for countrywide serosurveys to determine the extent of SARS-CoV-2 spread globally.
      WHO. Population-based age-stratified seroepidemiological investigation protocol for COVID-19 virus infection.
      To guide this process, the WHO developed an interim guidance policy document stating that serologic assays would be crucial to support serosurveillance efforts aimed at estimating transmission to inform public health responses.

      World Health Organization. (‎2020)‎. Diagnostic testing for SARS-CoV-2: interim guidance, 11 September 2020. World Health Organization. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/334254. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

      However, in this document,
      WHO. Population-based age-stratified seroepidemiological investigation protocol for COVID-19 virus infection.
      the WHO cautioned against using serologic assays to determine antibody titers as surrogates for protective immunity, or as tools for contact tracing or diagnosis of active infections.
      WHO. Population-based age-stratified seroepidemiological investigation protocol for COVID-19 virus infection.
      ,

      World Health Organization. (‎2020)‎. Diagnostic testing for SARS-CoV-2: interim guidance, 11 September 2020. World Health Organization. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/334254. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

      To support country-wide serosurveillance efforts, the WHO partnered with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FINDdx), African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM), and others, to evaluate and roll out COVID-19 diagnostics.
      FIND. FIND (foundation for innovative new diagnostics) evaluation update: SARS-CoV-2 immunoassays. Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) Accelerator.
      As a result, FIND created a centralized repository of available SARS-CoV-2 serologic assays,
      FIND. FIND (foundation for innovative new diagnostics) evaluation update: SARS-CoV-2 immunoassays. Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) Accelerator.
      which measures both performance accuracy and feasibility for scale-up in low and middle-income countries. This effort resulted in standardized protocols to evaluate the accuracy and suitability of serologic assays to achieve the following: triaging suspected patients with COVID-19, assessing recovery of convalescent patients with COVID-19, and implementation of these assays in broader seroprevalence initiatives to inform public health actions, such as prioritizing regions of high transmission, for COVID-19 vaccination. Easy-to-use serologic assays, such as LFAs, which are also affordable and scalable, will be key to decentralizing access to these tests.
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      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.

      Seroprevalence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Globally

      Several reports conducted in different populations with varied demographics showed a wide range of seroprevalence estimates of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, as highlighted herein.
      • Arora R.K.
      • Joseph A.
      • Van Wyk J.
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      SeroTracker: a global SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence dashboard.
      In Wuhan, China, a study on samples from 18,712 asymptomatic participants collected between January and February 2020 found a seroprevalence of 3%-8% for IgG titers,
      • Ling R.
      • Yu Y.
      • He J.
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      Seroprevalence and epidemiological characteristics of immunoglobulin M and G antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in asymptomatic people in Wuhan, China: a cross-sectional study.
      whereas another study in the same area from March to April 2020 described rates of 0.3% in 9442 community resident men.
      • Xu X.
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      • Nie S.
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      Seroprevalence of immunoglobulin M and G antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in China.
      In the United States, one study had 4675 outpatients,
      • Rogawski McQuade E.T.
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      • Becker L.
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      Assessment of seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 and risk factors associated with COVID-19 infection among outpatients in Virginia.
      another 177,919 community samples,
      • Bajema K.L.
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      • Cuffe K.
      • et al.
      Estimated SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in the US as of September 2020.
      and in the United Kingdom, 365,000 community samples yielded rates that varied from 0% to 20%.
      • Mahase E.
      Covid-19: antibody prevalence in England fell from 6.0% to 4.4% over three months, study finds.
      In a Spanish teaching hospital in Madrid, seroprevalence estimates ranged from 25% to 33% among 2919 health care workers.
      • Galan M.I.
      • Velasco M.
      • Casas M.L.
      • et al.
      Hospital-Wide SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in health care workers in a Spanish teaching hospital.
      In a slum in India, the seroprevalence was as high as 57.9% in 470 individuals.
      • George C.E.
      • Inbaraj L.R.
      • Chandrasingh S.
      • et al.
      High seroprevalence of COVID-19 infection in a large slum in South India; what does it tell us about managing a pandemic and beyond?.
      In Pakistan, the estimates in Karachi ranged from 8.7% to 15.1% for 3005 community samples.
      • Nisar M.I.
      • Ansari N.
      • Khalid F.
      • et al.
      Serial population-based sero-surveys for COVID-19 in two neighborhoods of Karachi, Pakistan.
      In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), most economies adopted systematic lockdowns, social distancing, and donning of masks to reduce transmission.
      • Verani A.
      • Clodfelter C.
      • Menon A.N.
      • et al.
      Social distancing policies in 22 African countries during the COVID-19 pandemic: a desk review.
      ,
      • Lalaoui R.
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      • Raoult D.
      • et al.
      What could explain the late emergence of COVID-19 in Africa?.
      As a result, SSA countries saw overall lower rates of severe disease in the early stages of the pandemic.
      • Rice B.L.
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      • Baker R.E.
      • et al.
      Variation in SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks across sub-Saharan Africa.
      • Post L.A.
      • Argaw S.T.
      • Jones C.
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      A SARS-CoV-2 surveillance System in sub-Saharan Africa: modeling study for persistence and transmission to inform policy.
      • Diop B.Z.
      • Ngom M.
      • Pougue Biyong C.
      • et al.
      The relatively young and rural population may limit the spread and severity of COVID-19 in Africa: a modelling study.
      However, following the economic pressure to reopen and relaxation of social distancing measures, infection rates have risen, with seroprevalence estimates in Kenya between 5% for 3174 blood donor samples
      • Uyoga S.
      • Adetifa I.M.O.
      • Karanja H.K.
      • et al.
      Seroprevalence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies in Kenyan blood donors.
      and 50% for 196 antenatal clinical samples,
      • Lucinde R.
      • Mugo D.
      • Bottomley C.
      • et al.
      Sero-surveillance for IgG to SARS-CoV-2 at antenatal care clinics in two Kenyan referral hospitals.
      12.3% among 500 asymptomatic health care workers in Malawi,
      • Chibwana M.G.
      • Jere K.C.
      • Kamng’ona R.
      • et al.
      High SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence in Health Care Workers but relatively low numbers of deaths in urban Malawi.
      3% of 99 asymptomatic individuals sampled in Ethiopia,
      • Kempen J.H.
      • Abashawl A.
      • Suga H.K.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 serosurvey in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
      45% in 133 health care workers in Nigeria,
      • Olayanju O.
      • Bamidele O.
      • Edem F.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 Seropositivity in asymptomatic frontline health workers in ibadan, Nigeria.
      Guinea Bissau 18% in 140 health care workers,
      • Benn C.S.
      • Salinha A.
      • Mendes S.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV2 sero-survey among adults involved in health care and health research in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa.
      and 38.5% among 2214 individuals in households in South Sudan.
      • Wiens K.E.
      • Mawien P.N.
      • Rumunu J.
      • et al.
      Seroprevalence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies in Juba, South Sudan: a population-based study.
      However, in most cases, these estimates are based on studies of target groups, such as health care workers, truck drivers, and small populations of less than 3,000 individuals.
      • Arora R.K.
      • Joseph A.
      • Van Wyk J.
      • et al.
      SeroTracker: a global SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence dashboard.
      ,
      • Bobrovitz N.
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      • Yan T.
      • et al.
      Lessons from a rapid systematic review of early SARS-CoV-2 serosurveys.
      Therefore, the number of participants in SARS-CoV-2 serosurveys in low- and middle-income countries has been generally lower than those of wealthier counterparts. The true extent of COVID-19 spread, particularly in rural settings with little active case finding and surveillance remains undetermined, especially whereby social distancing measures are more difficult to enforce.
      • McCreesh N.
      • Dlamini V.
      • Edwards A.
      • et al.
      Impact of social distancing regulations and epidemic risk perception on social contact and SARS-CoV-2 transmission potential in rural South Africa: analysis of repeated cross-sectional surveys.
      These seroprevalence studies collectively demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 spread, estimated by molecular test positivity rates, severely underestimate true transmission rates.
      • Arora R.K.
      • Joseph A.
      • Van Wyk J.
      • et al.
      SeroTracker: a global SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence dashboard.
      ,
      • LeBlanc E.V.
      • Colpitts C.C.
      A dual antibody test for accurate surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 exposure rates.
      Therefore, there is a need for more systematic sampling to determine the evolving seroprevalence of COVID-19 across various communities.

      Types of Serologic Tests for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2

      Serologic tests that detect antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 include enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs), chemiluminescence assays, and LFAs.
      • D'Cruz R.J.
      • Currier A.W.
      • Sampson V.B.
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      • Pickering S.
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      • Galao R.P.
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      Comparative assessment of multiple COVID-19 serological technologies supports continued evaluation of point-of-care lateral flow assays in hospital and community healthcare settings.
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      Evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 serology assays reveals a range of test performance.
      • Miller T.E.
      • Garcia Beltran W.F.
      • Bard A.Z.
      • et al.
      Clinical sensitivity and interpretation of PCR and serological COVID-19 diagnostics for patients presenting to the hospital.
      ELISAs are plate-based assays to detect an analyte, such as an antibody against a SARS-CoV-2 antigen. Several commercial and noncommercial tests have been developed to measure antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, which include both ELISA
      • Roy V.
      • Fischinger S.
      • Atyeo C.
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      SARS-CoV-2-specific ELISA development.
      and chemiluminescence immunoassays.
      • Zhong L.
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      • Gong B.
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      Detection of serum IgM and IgG for COVID-19 diagnosis.
      These assays generally target antibodies against the receptor-binding domain (RBD), spike (S), or nucleocapsid (N) proteins.
      • Roy V.
      • Fischinger S.
      • Atyeo C.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2-specific ELISA development.
      ,
      • Zhong L.
      • Chuan J.
      • Gong B.
      • et al.
      Detection of serum IgM and IgG for COVID-19 diagnosis.
      The commercially developed ELISA EUROIMMUN assay detects IgA/IgG antibodies that bind to spike antigens.
      • Van Elslande J.
      • Houben E.
      • Depypere M.
      • et al.
      Diagnostic performance of seven rapid IgG/IgM antibody tests and the Euroimmun IgA/IgG ELISA in COVID-19 patients.
      • Okba N.M.A.
      • Muller M.A.
      • Li W.
      • et al.
      Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2-specific antibody responses in coronavirus disease patients.
      • Beavis K.G.
      • Matushek S.M.
      • Abeleda A.P.F.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of the EUROIMMUN anti-SARS-CoV-2 ELISA assay for detection of IgA and IgG antibodies.
      This ELISA has been evaluated using 103 clinical samples, whereby they observed a sensitivity of 21.6% within a week of symptoms onset, 55.1% on the second week and 89.5% after 2 weeks for IgG, with an overall specificity of 96.1%. Similar results were obtained for NovaLisa ELISA kit at 2-weeks post-infection for IgG (sensitivity: 94.9%, specificity: 96.2%), IgM (sensitivity: 89.7%, specificity: 98.7%), and IgA (sensitivity: 48.7%, specificity: 98.7%) in 287 patients. The Platelia ELISA kit yielded 97.4% and 94.9% sensitivity and specificity, respectively
      • Tre-Hardy M.
      • Wilmet A.
      • Beukinga I.
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      Analytical and clinical validation of an ELISA for specific SARS-CoV-2 IgG, IgA, and IgM antibodies.
      , using the same 287 patient samples. Several in-house noncommercial ELISAs have also been developed. A recent study evaluated inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus antigen by ELISA using 513 clinical samples at 2-weeks postinfection and found that it demonstrated 92.3% sensitivity and 97.9% specificity.
      • Sapkal G.
      • Shete-Aich A.
      • Jain R.
      • et al.
      Development of indigenous IgG ELISA for the detection of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG.
      An alternative indirect ELISA method used S protein to measure IgG to SARS-CoV-2 in 418 healthy persons, patients with COVID-19 and health care workers, yielding 100% sensitivity and 98.4% specificity, with no cross-reactivity to other human coronaviruses.
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      • El-Kafrawy S.A.
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      In another study, 30 inpatients with SARS-CoV-2-positive were subdivided into severe and mild, based on whether they needed intensive care or not, respectively, and a total of 151 samples were collected.
      • Brochot E.
      • Demey B.
      • Touze A.
      • et al.
      Anti-spike, anti-nucleocapsid and neutralizing antibodies in SARS-CoV-2 inpatients and asymptomatic individuals.
      In these samples, evaluation of IgG titers of RBD, S, and N proteins showed that antibodies against RBD and N proteins more accurately reflected disease status, and were higher in samples from inpatients with severe than mild COVID-19.
      • Brochot E.
      • Demey B.
      • Touze A.
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      Anti-spike, anti-nucleocapsid and neutralizing antibodies in SARS-CoV-2 inpatients and asymptomatic individuals.
      For chemiluminescent assays, the sensitivity was 96% in 1338 clinical samples collected at a median of 47 days.
      • Weber M.C.
      • Risch M.
      • Thiel S.L.
      • et al.
      Characteristics of three different chemiluminescence assays for testing for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
      Although ELISAs and chemiluminescent assays can quantify antibodies, they remain primarily a research tool, particularly in resource-limited areas, since they require expensive equipment, trained personnel, and central laboratories that preclude their use in decentralized community testing programs.
      Serologic LFAs are best suited as point-of-care tests for assessing prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
      • Peeling R.W.
      • Wedderburn C.J.
      • Garcia P.J.
      • et al.
      Serology testing in the COVID-19 pandemic response.
      ,
      • Pecora N.D.
      • Zand M.S.
      Measuring the serologic response to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2: methods and meaning.
      LFAs were thus developed as tools to detect SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies in patient sera, plasma, or whole blood. Earlier in the pandemic, serologic LFAs were proposed as alternatives to the expensive and time-intensive RT-qPCR, to complement COVID-19 diagnosis.
      • Ragnesola B.
      • Jin D.
      • Lamb C.C.
      • et al.
      COVID19 antibody detection using lateral flow assay tests in a cohort of convalescent plasma donors.
      ,
      • Humble R.M.
      • Merrill A.E.
      • Ford B.A.
      • et al.
      Practical considerations for implementation of SARS-CoV-2 serological testing in the clinical laboratory: Experience at an Academic medical center.
      However, molecular and rapid antigen tests remain the gold standard for diagnosing active infection. LFAs are simple devices that usually show a qualitative band to indicate the presence of antibodies targeting different SARS-CoV-2 antigens, and usually a second control band to indicate the validity of the test. SARS-CoV-2 serologic LFAs are effective in detecting antibodies between 15 and 30 days after the onset of disease.
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      ,
      • Whitman J.D.
      • Hiatt J.
      • Mowery C.T.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 serology assays reveals a range of test performance.
      ,
      • Lou B.
      • Li T.D.
      • Zheng S.F.
      • et al.
      Serology characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 infection after exposure and post-symptom onset.
      ,
      • Zhao J.
      • Yuan Q.
      • Wang H.
      • et al.
      Antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in patients with novel coronavirus disease 2019.
      However, data on the sensitivity of the LFAs more than 30-days postinfection are limited. There are currently more than 448 tests available or in development (SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic pipeline - FIND (finddx.org)). The FINDdx repository continues to be updated with new SARS-CoV-2 serologic tests and their performance characteristics, as evaluated by multiple partner institutions,
      FIND. FIND (foundation for innovative new diagnostics) evaluation update: SARS-CoV-2 immunoassays. Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) Accelerator.
      (Fig. 1, Table 1). The performance of these assays relies on the ability of SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals to mount antibodies against the virus as described later in discussion.
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Fig. 1Regulatory Authorizations for COVID-19 Serology LFAs: The percentage of serology lateral flow kits (x-axis) that have been approved by different regulatory bodies across the world (y-axis). Others§: combination of regulatory authorities that have approved less than 1% of the kits (n = 269), including the Philippines FDA and Korea Export (0.7% each), COFEPRIS (Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios; Mexico), In Vitro Diagnostics class D (IVD-D), Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare-In Vitro Diagnostics (MHLW-IVD), Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA; UK), Medical Device Authority (MDA; Malaysia), Roszdravnadzor (RZN; Russia), Swiss Medic and Taiwan FDA (0.4% each). CE-IVD: Conformité Européene In vitro diagnostics (approval by the EU). RUO: Research Use Only. EUA: Emergency Use Authorization. Data is accessed from the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FINDdx).
      FIND. FIND (foundation for innovative new diagnostics) evaluation update: SARS-CoV-2 immunoassays. Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) Accelerator.
      Table 1COVID-19 Lateral Flow Serology Assays Reported by Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), accessed on 02 April 2021
      Feature/CharacteristicTotal: n (%)
      Target antibody269 (100%)
       IgG269 (100%)
       IgM269 (100%)
      Type of sample to test269 (100%)
       Serum269 (100%)
       Plasma269 (100%)
       Whole Blood269 (100%)
      Phase of development269 (100%)
       Commercialized250 (92.9%)
       In development19 (7.1%)
      Use authorization269 (100%)
       Emergency Use Authorization29 (10.8%)
       Research Use Only29 (10.8%)
       No restricted use211 (78.4%)

      Induction of Antibodies Against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2

      Innate and adaptive immunity play an important role in controlling SARS-CoV-2 infection.
      • Sette A.
      • Crotty S.
      Adaptive immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.
      Adaptive immunity creates durable memory responses to reinfection with SARS-CoV-2, through T cell-mediated cellular immunity,
      • Sette A.
      • Crotty S.
      Adaptive immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.
      • Jarjour N.N.
      • Masopust D.
      • Jameson S.C.
      T cell memory: understanding COVID-19.
      • Ni L.
      • Ye F.
      • Cheng M.L.
      • et al.
      Detection of SARS-CoV-2-specific humoral and cellular immunity in COVID-19 convalescent individuals.
      and B cell-mediated humoral immunity.
      • Yu K.K.
      • Fischinger S.
      • Smith M.T.
      • et al.
      Comorbid illnesses are associated with altered adaptive immune responses to SARS-CoV-2.
      ,
      • Yu K.K.Q.
      • Fischinger S.
      • Smith M.T.
      • et al.
      Comorbid illnesses are associated with altered adaptive immune responses to SARS-CoV-2.
      B cells differentiate into plasma cells, which produce antibodies that target viral antigens. Binding of antibodies to the virus can neutralize it and block its replication in host cells, which forms the basis for proposed antibody therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2.
      • Ali M.G.
      • Zhang Z.
      • Gao Q.
      • et al.
      Recent advances in therapeutic applications of neutralizing antibodies for virus infections: an overview.
      ,
      • Tian X.
      • Li C.
      • Huang A.
      • et al.
      Potent binding of 2019 novel coronavirus spike protein by a SARS coronavirus-specific human monoclonal antibody.
      Antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 include multiple isotypes
      • Krishnamurthy H.K.
      • Jayaraman V.
      • Krishna K.
      • et al.
      Antibody profiling and prevalence in US patients during the SARS-CoV2 pandemic.
      : immunoglobulin-M (IgM), IgG, IgA, which start to appear in patients with COVID-19 around 7 to 14 days post-infection and persist for weeks after virus clearance.
      • Post N.
      • Eddy D.
      • Huntley C.
      • et al.
      Antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 infection in humans: a systematic review.
      The most detected antibodies recognize either the internal N protein or the highly immunogenic external S protein.
      • Premkumar L.
      • Segovia-Chumbez B.
      • Jadi R.
      • et al.
      The receptor binding domain of the viral spike protein is an immunodominant and highly specific target of antibodies in SARS-CoV-2 patients.
      The RBD is the component of the spike protein, which binds to the human angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2) receptor to enter and replicate in the host cell.
      • Hoffmann M.
      • Kleine-Weber H.
      • Schroeder S.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 cell entry depends on ACE2 and TMPRSS2 and is blocked by a clinically proven protease inhibitor.
      ,
      • Bourgonje A.R.
      • Abdulle A.E.
      • Timens W.
      • et al.
      Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), SARS-CoV-2 and the pathophysiology of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
      Therefore, neutralizing antibodies against the RBD of SARS-CoV-2 are particularly important to block entry and replication in host cells.
      • Dejnirattisai W.
      • Zhou D.
      • Ginn H.M.
      • et al.
      The antigenic anatomy of SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain.
      Given the integral role of the S protein and RBD in facilitating viral entry, these antigens form the basis of many immunoassays described to date
      • Dejnirattisai W.
      • Zhou D.
      • Ginn H.M.
      • et al.
      The antigenic anatomy of SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain.
      ,
      • Amanat F.
      • Stadlbauer D.
      • Strohmeier S.
      • et al.
      A serological assay to detect SARS-CoV-2 seroconversion in humans.
      and inform rational COVID-19 vaccine design.
      • Corbett K.S.
      • Edwards D.K.
      • Leist S.R.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine design enabled by prototype pathogen preparedness.
      Recent data from immunoassays based on the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein show high sensitivity.
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      ,
      • Whitman J.D.
      • Hiatt J.
      • Mowery C.T.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 serology assays reveals a range of test performance.
      ,
      • Sethuraman N.
      • Jeremiah S.S.
      • Ryo A.
      Interpreting diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2.
      ,
      • Bryan A.
      • Pepper G.
      • Wener M.H.
      • et al.
      Performance characteristics of the Abbott Architect SARS-CoV-2 IgG assay and seroprevalence in Boise, Idaho.
      However, the higher sequence homology of the SARS-CoV-2 N protein to other coronaviruses, than the S protein, could increase the possibility of cross-reactivity against N proteins from related coronaviruses.
      • Anderson E.M.
      • Goodwin E.C.
      • Verma A.
      • et al.
      Seasonal human coronavirus antibodies are boosted upon SARS-CoV-2 infection but not associated with protection.
      • Krammer F.
      • Simon V.
      Serology assays to manage COVID-19.
      • Michel M.
      • Bouam A.
      • Edouard S.
      • et al.
      Evaluating ELISA, immunofluorescence, and lateral flow assay for SARS-CoV-2 serologic assays.
      IgM antibodies are usually the first humoral response on SARS-CoV-2 infection.
      • He Z.
      • Ren L.
      • Yang J.
      • et al.
      Seroprevalence and humoral immune durability of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Wuhan, China: a longitudinal, population-level, cross-sectional study.
      Travel requirements in China have required a negative IgM test to permit travel (http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/notices/t1841416.htm). However, using IgM as an indicator of early infection is still likely to miss individuals within 5 days of exposure.
      • Van Elslande J.
      • Houben E.
      • Depypere M.
      • et al.
      Diagnostic performance of seven rapid IgG/IgM antibody tests and the Euroimmun IgA/IgG ELISA in COVID-19 patients.
      Serum levels of SARS-CoV-2-specific IgM antibodies decrease precipitously over time, than IgG response, as shown in longitudinal serosurveys of households in Wuhan, China,
      • He Z.
      • Ren L.
      • Yang J.
      • et al.
      Seroprevalence and humoral immune durability of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Wuhan, China: a longitudinal, population-level, cross-sectional study.
      and longitudinal studies of convalescent patients after discharge.
      • Ni L.
      • Ye F.
      • Cheng M.L.
      • et al.
      Detection of SARS-CoV-2-specific humoral and cellular immunity in COVID-19 convalescent individuals.
      In contrast, SARS-CoV-2 RBD-specific IgG antibodies were durable in convalescent patients with COVID-19 and showed minimal cross-reactivity against other widely circulating coronaviruses (HKU1, 229E, OC43, NL63).
      • Iyer A.S.
      • Jones F.K.
      • Nodoushani A.
      • et al.
      Persistence and decay of human antibody responses to the receptor binding domain of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in COVID-19 patients.

      Utility of Lateral Flow Assays for Coronavirus Disease of 2019 Antibody Testing

      LFAs are effective point-of-care tools to detect immune responses to widely transmitted infections like SARS-CoV-2.
      • Ernst E.
      • Wolfe P.
      • Stahura C.
      • et al.
      Technical considerations to development of serological tests for SARS-CoV-2.
      ,
      • Cavalera S.
      • Colitti B.
      • Rosati S.
      • et al.
      A multi-target lateral flow immunoassay enabling the specific and sensitive detection of total antibodies to SARS COV-2.
      Serologic LFAs measure pathogen-specific antibodies in accessible biological specimens using simple platforms, whereby gold or other material-based nanoparticles are often used to label secondary antibodies.
      • Cavalera S.
      • Colitti B.
      • Rosati S.
      • et al.
      A multi-target lateral flow immunoassay enabling the specific and sensitive detection of total antibodies to SARS COV-2.
      ,
      • Roda A.
      • Cavalera S.
      • Di Nardo F.
      • et al.
      Dual lateral flow optical/chemiluminescence immunosensors for the rapid detection of salivary and serum IgA in patients with COVID-19 disease.
      LFAs are ideal for mass population surveillance for antibody responses, induced by either natural infection or vaccination, because they are cost-effective, portable, rapid, can be designed to measure more than one antibody isotype in the same sample, and do not require sophisticated equipment to produce results.
      • Peeling R.W.
      • Wedderburn C.J.
      • Garcia P.J.
      • et al.
      Serology testing in the COVID-19 pandemic response.
      ,
      • Ernst E.
      • Wolfe P.
      • Stahura C.
      • et al.
      Technical considerations to development of serological tests for SARS-CoV-2.
      Furthermore, LFAs are easy-to-use and do not require specialized training for implementation.
      • Li Z.
      • Yi Y.
      • Luo X.
      • et al.
      Development and clinical application of a rapid IgM-IgG combined antibody test for SARS-CoV-2 infection diagnosis.
      Additional developments to improve their sensitivity include the use of smartphone apps to detect positive LFA results, which could enable aggregation of data in centralized databases to report disease exposure and inform public health intervention.
      • Roda A.
      • Cavalera S.
      • Di Nardo F.
      • et al.
      Dual lateral flow optical/chemiluminescence immunosensors for the rapid detection of salivary and serum IgA in patients with COVID-19 disease.
      ,
      • Calabria D.
      • Caliceti C.
      • Zangheri M.
      • et al.
      Smartphone-based enzymatic biosensor for oral fluid L-lactate detection in one minute using confined multilayer paper reflectometry.
      Therefore, LFAs are useful candidates for population serosurveillance and to monitor longevity of vaccine and SARS-CoV-2-induced antibodies to understand the real extent of herd immunity in a population.
      • Aschwanden C.
      Five reasons why COVID herd immunity is probably impossible.
      ,
      • Neagu M.
      The bumpy road to achieve herd immunity in COVID-19.
      However, before implementation of LFAs, the performance of these assays must be systematically evaluated (Table 2), including the impact of factors such as temperature and humidity.
      • Lisboa Bastos M.
      • Tavaziva G.
      • Abidi S.K.
      • et al.
      Diagnostic accuracy of serological tests for covid-19: systematic review and meta-analysis.
      ,
      FIND. FIND (foundation for innovative new diagnostics) evaluation update: SARS-CoV-2 immunoassays. Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) Accelerator.
      ,
      • Hashem A.M.
      • Alhabbab R.Y.
      • Algaissi A.
      • et al.
      Performance of commercially available rapid serological assays for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
      Table 2Key considerations for LFA evaluation studies
      Issues and Questions to Address in the Evaluation
      Target population
      • Will the study include both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals?
      • Inclusion of vulnerable and high-risk populations (e.g., immunocompromised individuals and those with comorbidities)?
      • Diverse ethnic and socio-economic participants
      • Different age groups (children and the elderly)
      • Implementation in occupational settings: for example, for testing healthcare workers and education staff
      • Inclusion of travelers (e.g., for border crossing restrictions)
      Sampling scheme
      • Cross-sectional schemes for direct evaluation of LFA performance characteristics (e.g., sensitivity and specificity)
      • Longitudinal schemes particularly of highly exposed individuals to allow the analysis of seroconversion, durability of vaccine, and infection-induced antibody responses
      Type of sample
      • Are samples easy to collect? (e.g., finger prick whole blood, urine, saliva)? Invasiveness?
      • Does the sample collection require trained personnel?
      • Access to storage and transport conditions to preserve the sample quality
      • Infection control: Does the sample expose the “collector” to SARS-CoV-2 or other pathogens?
      • Can the end-user collect the samples themselves?
      Study case definition
      • Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 exposure and time between confirmed RT-qPCR test and sample collection for serology.
      Study control definition
      • 1.
        Historic pre-pandemic samples
      • 2.
        Populations that are routinely tested: For example, healthcare workers without any documented positive test
      Performance characteristicsTest sensitivity

      Test specificity

      Positive predictive values (PPV)

      Negative predictive values (NPV)
      Prevalence in the target population
      • The impact of prevalence on PPV and NPV?
      • Would the test overestimate or underestimate the test results?
      Specificity controls
      • Will the evaluation determine analytical specificity by measuring cross-reactivity against other seasonal coronaviruses: HKU1, OC43, NL63, and 229E, or coronaviruses from previous outbreaks: SARS-CoV and MERS?
      Reference standard
      • Will the evaluation include reference serology standards: for example, pooled samples from known positives with high, mid, and low antibody titers.
      Target antigen
      • What is the target antigen in the LFA?
        • 1.
          Nucleocapsid
        • 2.
          Spike
        • 3.
          Other antigens: for example, RBD
      Isotype of interest
      • Will the test target IgM, IgG, or IgA isotypes?
      • What is the definition of a positive and negative test result if multiple antibody isotypes are included?
      Conservation of antigen
      • Is the target antigen from a conserved region of the SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequence?
      • How similar is the antigen to other coronaviruses to allow discrimination of SARS-CoV-2?
      • Is the LFA performance impacted by mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 antigens?
      Variants
      • What autologous SARS-CoV-2 strain was the “case” infected with?
      • Is the LFA intended to specifically detect SARS-CoV-2 variants?
      Limit of detection
      • What is the analytical sensitivity of the LFA: at which antibody concentration does the LFA lose sensitivity?
      Quantitative utility
      • Is the kit used for qualitative test results only?
      • Does the band intensity correlate with antibody titers?
      Vaccination Status
      • Is this LFA intended for a vaccinated population?
      Use cases
      • Individual vs population?
      • Vaccinated vs unvaccinated?
      • Epidemiologic understanding of seroprevalence and transmission?
      • Durability of responses?
      Financial effectiveness
      • How affordable is the test?
      • Will the cost allow the LFA to be subsidized by a healthcare system or individuals will cover the cost?
      • How does the cost impact the community uptake?
      Utility of implementation
      • Does the LFA fulfill a critical public health implementation need?
      • Is the LFA the most suitable testing modality for the use case?
      • Do you foresee barriers to social acceptability to implementation?
      Supply chain (manufacturer)
      • Can manufacturing be scaled up?
      • Who is funding the manufacturing?
      • What is the availability of consumables in the region?
      • Will the LFA kits require assembly in the user laboratories, or is the assembly centralized?
      • Are the locally available consumables compatible with the LFA?
      Impact on clinical decision making
      • Does the result impact clinical practice?
      • Is there evidence supporting the implementation of the LFA in clinical care settings?
      Provider/health care system acceptance
      • Are the LFA vendor and/or developer considered credible for local public health authorities?
      Utility for local public health systems?
      • What is the demand landscape for the LFA?
      • Does the LFA inform social distancing guidelines?
      • Can the evaluation protocol determine fitness for implementation?
      • Is the LFA high on the priority list for tools in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic?
      • What are the cold chain requirements for storage and distribution?
      • Can the LFA adapt to different temperatures/climates?
      Feasibility and adoption
      • Is there a political will to adopt LFAs?
      • What is the available infrastructure for rolling out LFAs?
      • Are they fit for the proposed use cases?
      • What is the balance between feasibility, practicality, and actual fit that ensure the utility of adoption?
      • Will the evaluation assess adoption-uptake (decision to use the LFA and trialability (ability to attract the utilization and ease of use-for direct-to-consumer testing)
        • Proctor E.
        • Silmere H.
        • Raghavan R.
        • et al.
        Outcomes for implementation research: conceptual distinctions, measurement challenges, and research agenda.
        ,
        • Lewis C.C.
        • Fischer S.
        • Weiner B.J.
        • et al.
        Outcomes for implementation science: an enhanced systematic review of instruments using evidence-based rating criteria.
        ?

      Band Strength and Sensitivity of Lateral Flow Assays

      As LFAs are designed to be qualitative tests, an important question is whether the band strength (that is, the color intensity of the bands) should be evaluated. The interpretation of band strength can be subjective, but perhaps can be improved by incorporating smartphone apps, as conducted recently for a rapid antigen test.
      • Singh N.K.
      • Ray P.
      • Carlin A.F.
      • et al.
      Hitting the diagnostic sweet spot: point-of-care SARS-CoV-2 salivary antigen testing with an off-the-shelf glucometer.
      Variation in band strength across multiple samples raises the question of whether band strength correlates with titers of antibody titers.
      • Lee W.
      • Straube S.
      • Sincic R.
      • et al.
      Clinical evaluation of a COVID-19 antibody lateral flow assay using point of care samples.
      Antibody levels, determined by optical density (OD) ratios, were initially low following symptom onset, then increased over time whereby IgM, IgG, and IgA levels correlated with clinical disease severity.
      • Nilsson A.C.
      • Holm D.K.
      • Justesen U.S.
      • et al.
      Comparison of six commercially available SARS-CoV-2 antibody assays-Choice of assay depends on intended use.
      A rapid decay of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, particularly for patients with mild symptoms implies that the band intensity could serve as a biomarker for disease severity.
      • Ibarrondo F.J.
      • Fulcher J.A.
      • Goodman-Meza D.
      • et al.
      Rapid decay of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in persons with mild covid-19.
      As suboptimal antibody titers may promote pathology through antibody dependent-enhancement,
      • Iwasaki A.
      • Yang Y.
      The potential danger of suboptimal antibody responses in COVID-19.
      correlating LFA band strength with symptom severity could provide a use case for LFAs to inform clinical management. Because LFAs are best suited for population surveillance, the importance of the analytical sensitivity, also known as the limit of detection (LoD) of LFA, that is, the lowest antibody titers in each sample to give a positive LFA result, cannot be understated. High analytical sensitivity is important in cases that present late with milder symptoms and in patients suspected of COVID-19 despite a negative SARS-CoV-2 RT-qPCR test result.
      • Sethuraman N.
      • Jeremiah S.S.
      • Ryo A.
      Interpreting diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2.

      Use Cases of Serologic Lateral Flow Assays

      LFAs have the potential of deployment outside of clinical care settings due to their affordability and ease of use.
      • Peeling R.W.
      • Wedderburn C.J.
      • Garcia P.J.
      • et al.
      Serology testing in the COVID-19 pandemic response.
      The number of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 is known to be underestimated, especially in low- and middle-income countries,
      • Lucinde R.
      • Mugo D.
      • Bottomley C.
      • et al.
      Sero-surveillance for IgG to SARS-CoV-2 at antenatal care clinics in two Kenyan referral hospitals.
      due to the high rate of unreported and asymptomatic cases which can spread the infection within the community.
      • Niu Y.
      • Xu F.
      Deciphering the power of isolation in controlling COVID-19 outbreaks.
      The availability of molecular testing and public health restrictions that follow especially for the informal labor sector and rural communities, pose real barriers to testing.
      • Tan T.Q.
      • Kullar R.
      • Swartz T.H.
      • et al.
      Location matters: geographic disparities and impact of coronavirus disease 2019.
      Thus, LFAs provide a cheap and scalable alternative to estimate the spread in diverse communities. The presence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies can identify presumably immune individuals and could thus serve as a tool to release individuals from isolation or lockdown.
      • Hashem A.M.
      • Alhabbab R.Y.
      • Algaissi A.
      • et al.
      Performance of commercially available rapid serological assays for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
      However, it is important to note that LFAs do not quantify antibody titers or their neutralizing potential. Hence, LFAs are not ideal surrogates for herd immunity,
      • Aschwanden C.
      Five reasons why COVID herd immunity is probably impossible.
      ,
      • Neagu M.
      The bumpy road to achieve herd immunity in COVID-19.
      but are better suited for estimating SARS-CoV-2 transmission in diverse communities.
      On the individual level, LFAs can complement efforts for retrospective diagnosis of presumably exposed individuals.
      • Michel M.
      • Bouam A.
      • Edouard S.
      • et al.
      Evaluating ELISA, immunofluorescence, and lateral flow assay for SARS-CoV-2 serologic assays.
      Positive LFA results can confirm exposure to a SARS-CoV-2-infected individual, and so LFAs can complement contact-tracing tools, but cannot replace molecular or antigen tests.
      • Michel M.
      • Bouam A.
      • Edouard S.
      • et al.
      Evaluating ELISA, immunofluorescence, and lateral flow assay for SARS-CoV-2 serologic assays.
      LFAs are also ideal as direct-to-consumer at-home serologic tests that empower individuals to test for anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
      • Jorfi M.
      • Luo N.M.
      • Hazra A.
      • et al.
      Diagnostic technology for COVID-19: comparative evaluation of antigen and serology-based SARS-CoV-2 immunoassays, and contact tracing solutions for potential use as at-home products.
      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved several LFAs, such as Cellex qSARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM Rapid Test and others for home use.
      • Ravi N.
      • Cortade D.L.
      • Ng E.
      • et al.
      Diagnostics for SARS-CoV-2 detection: a comprehensive review of the FDA-EUA COVID-19 testing landscape.
      Interestingly, Cellex partnered with Gauss to launch a parallel rapid SARS-CoV-2 antigen test, which was the first to be approved by the FDA for home use.
      IndustryPlaybook. Gauss and Cellex partner for first at-home SARS-CoV-2 antigen test. Clinical laboratory news.
      It is very likely that serologic LFAs will follow suit. Although home use of serologic tests can be a vital instrument in empowering users, the risk of result misinterpretation is very high,
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      and may result in premature behavioral changes that could increase the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. More dangerously, ineffective immunity has the chance of exerting selection pressure to increase spontaneous mutations of SARS-CoV-2, and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 variants of conern.
      • Kissler S.M.
      • Tedijanto C.
      • Goldstein E.
      • et al.
      Projecting the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 through the postpandemic period.
      ,
      • Choudhary M.C.
      • Crain C.R.
      • Qiu X.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 sequence characteristics of COVID-19 persistence and reinfection.
      A positive result is prone to be false when the prevalence of the disease is low, or if the specificity of the assay is suboptimal for reasons such as cross-reactivity with related coronaviruses.
      • Tenny S.
      • Hoffman M.R.
      Prevalence.
      Therefore, deployment of LFAs for home-use requires the inclusion of educational materials that facilitate interpretation as explained later in discussion.

      Lateral Flow Assays to Distinguish Antibodies Induced by Infection or Vaccination

      The identity of target SARS-CoV-2 antigens in the LFAs is critical.
      • Deeks J.J.
      • Dinnes J.
      • Takwoingi Y.
      • et al.
      Antibody tests for identification of current and past infection with SARS-CoV-2.
      ,
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      ,
      • Pickering S.
      • Betancor G.
      • Galao R.P.
      • et al.
      Comparative assessment of multiple COVID-19 serological technologies supports continued evaluation of point-of-care lateral flow assays in hospital and community healthcare settings.
      ,
      • Whitman J.D.
      • Hiatt J.
      • Mowery C.T.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 serology assays reveals a range of test performance.
      Some LFA kits target the N protein,
      • Garritsen A.
      • Scholzen A.
      • van den Nieuwenhof D.W.A.
      • et al.
      Two-tiered SARS-CoV-2 seroconversion screening in The Netherlands and stability of nucleocapsid, spike protein domain 1 and neutralizing antibodies.
      others the RBD
      • Lan J.
      • Ge J.
      • Yu J.
      • et al.
      Structure of the SARS-CoV-2 spike receptor-binding domain bound to the ACE2 receptor.
      and some the S protein, which is displayed all around the surface of the virus.
      • Hoffmann M.
      • Kleine-Weber H.
      • Schroeder S.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 cell entry depends on ACE2 and TMPRSS2 and is blocked by a clinically proven protease inhibitor.
      Additionally, the N-terminal domain of the N protein is highly conserved in all beta-coronaviruses and may cause false-positive results and/or fail to detect true early sensitization.
      • Michel M.
      • Bouam A.
      • Edouard S.
      • et al.
      Evaluating ELISA, immunofluorescence, and lateral flow assay for SARS-CoV-2 serologic assays.
      Several widely used SARS-CoV-2 vaccines use the S antigen, including mRNA-1273 by Moderna,
      • Jackson L.A.
      • Anderson E.J.
      • Rouphael N.G.
      • et al.
      An mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 - preliminary report.
      AZD1222 by AstraZeneca,
      • Voysey M.
      • Clemens S.A.C.
      • Madhi S.A.
      • et al.
      Safety and efficacy of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine (AZD1222) against SARS-CoV-2: an interim analysis of four randomised controlled trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK.
      the Ad26.COV2.S
      • Mercado N.B.
      • Zahn R.
      • Wegmann F.
      • et al.
      Single-shot Ad26 vaccine protects against SARS-CoV-2 in rhesus macaques.
      from Johnson and Johnson, or more specifically the RBD of BTN162b2 by Pfizer-BioNTech.
      • Polack F.P.
      • Thomas S.J.
      • Kitchin N.
      • et al.
      Safety and efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA covid-19 vaccine.
      Therefore, in populations that receive Spike-based vaccines, LFAs targeting the N and S antigens can be used to distinguish natural SARS-CoV-2 infection only, or vaccine and infection-induced antibodies, respectively (see Table 2). Vaccines that are based on the complete inactivated virus, such as BBV152/COVAXIN or N antigen only will not allow this use case.
      • Thiagarajan K.
      What do we know about India's Covaxin vaccine?.
      The variety of antigenic targets for the LFAs, as well as more complex serologic assays, allow for this application.
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      ,
      • Suhandynata R.T.
      • Bevins N.J.
      • Tran J.T.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 serology status detected by commercialized platforms distinguishes previous infection and vaccination adaptive immune responses.
      LFAs targeting the S protein only include COVID-19 IgM/IgG tests from: Camtech, Oranoxis, and Ozo, and N-specific LFAs include CareHealth, KHB, Phamatech, and Ray Biotech, whereas several LFAs target both and would not be suitable for this use case.
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      ,
      • Whitman J.D.
      • Hiatt J.
      • Mowery C.T.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 serology assays reveals a range of test performance.
      The tests overall show high sensitivity and specificity for IgG antibodies in samples collected 10 days or more following a positive SARS-CoV-2 RT-qPCR result.
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      The sensitivity was generally higher for IgG than IgM, which motivates for using IgG LFA readouts for serosurveys or home use.
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      Overall, FINDdx reports that most LFAs target the N antigen (see Table 1), making them more appropriate for testing breakthrough SARS-CoV-2 infections in individuals who received S-based vaccines.

      Study Design to Evaluate Serologic Lateral Flow Assays

      Decentralized administration of serologic tests raises important concerns about the accuracy of these platforms, subsequent interpretation of test results by both providers and end-users,
      • Syal K.
      Guidelines on newly identified limitations of diagnostic tools for COVID-19 and consequences.
      and their suitability for different implementation scenarios.
      • Kirk M.A.
      • Kelley C.
      • Yankey N.
      • et al.
      A systematic review of the use of the consolidated framework for implementation research.
      These considerations are summarized in Table 2.

      Study population

      It is important that cohorts used for LFA evaluations reflect the characteristics of the intended populations for implementation. For example, if the intended application is testing the longevity of vaccine-induced response, the study design should include control pre-vaccination samples, proximal post-vaccination samples to assess seroconversion (e.g., 1- and 2-week post-vaccination) and remote samples (e.g., 6 months or 1-year post-vaccination). In this situation, quantitative serologic assays such as ELISAs should be used as a reference to benchmark the LFA performance.
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      In contrast, if LFAs are intended to test the induction of antibodies in specific subgroups, such as HIV-positive or immunocompromised individuals,
      • Choi B.
      • Choudhary M.C.
      • Regan J.
      • et al.
      Persistence and evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in an immunocompromised host.
      the cohorts need to include individuals with these clinical characteristics and controls. In contrast, evaluation of LFA’s analytical specificity against other related viruses will require inclusion of populations with a known history of exposure to other coronaviruses, such as historical samples from convalescent individuals from the first SARS-CoV epidemic in 2003,
      • Zhu Y.
      • Yu D.
      • Han Y.
      • et al.
      Cross-reactive neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 by serum antibodies from recovered SARS patients and immunized animals.
      as SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 share 76.5% amino acid sequence similarity, and share tropism for the ACE2 receptors for entry into mammalian cells.
      • Wang H.
      • Li X.
      • Li T.
      • et al.
      The genetic sequence, origin, and diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2.
      Symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection increases the pretest probability that someone was exposed to SARS-CoV-2. However, as asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 carriers are estimated to comprise at least 40% to 45% of all SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals,
      • Oran D.P.
      • Topol E.J.
      Prevalence of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection : a Narrative review.
      evaluation studies should include both symptomatic, as well as asymptomatic individuals,
      • Milani G.P.
      • Dioni L.
      • Favero C.
      • et al.
      Serological follow-up of SARS-CoV-2 asymptomatic subjects.
      with a positive SARS-CoV-2 result on a highly sensitive and specific molecular test. These studies were difficult at the beginning of the pandemic as testing was generally restricted to hospitalized and severely ill patients with COVID-19. However, with expanded access to community testing using sensitive RT-qPCR tests, inclusion of SARS-CoV-2-positive individuals with mild or no symptoms for sampling to evaluate serologic LFAs is important. The cases should ideally span diverse demographics, clinical presentations (from asymptomatic, mildly, and severely symptomatic to those in intensive care), and comorbidities, which may compromise seroconversion following SARS-CoV-2 infection, especially that some of these populations may be at even higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 disease.
      • Kullar R.
      • Marcelin J.R.
      • Swartz T.H.
      • et al.
      Racial disparity of coronavirus disease 2019 in African American communities.
      ,
      • Menezes N.P.
      • Malone J.
      • Lyons C.
      • et al.
      Racial and Ethnic disparities in viral acute respiratory infections in the United States: protocol of a systematic review.
      The parallel uninfected controls should preferably be sampled from the same population as cases to reduce systematic biases in the evaluation.
      The selection of SARS-CoV-2 unexposed controls is more difficult considering the wide-spread transmission of the virus and high seroprevalence globally.
      • Dong E.
      • Du H.
      • Gardner L.
      An interactive web-based dashboard to track COVID-19 in real time.
      ,
      • Arora R.K.
      • Joseph A.
      • Van Wyk J.
      • et al.
      SeroTracker: a global SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence dashboard.
      The WHO only declared the pandemic a global emergency in March of 2020, whereas seroprevalence at these months indicated higher rates of infections that reflect earlier transmission.
      • To K.K.
      • Cheng V.C.
      • Cai J.P.
      • et al.
      Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in Hong Kong and in residents evacuated from Hubei province, China: a multicohort study.
      Several communities outside of Wuhan already documented seropositive patients in January and February of 2020,
      • Haveri A.
      • Smura T.
      • Kuivanen S.
      • et al.
      Serological and molecular findings during SARS-CoV-2 infection: the first case study in Finland, January to February 2020.
      which may be due to cross-reactivity to other related coronaviruses, or real transmission of SARS-CoV-2 before molecular testing was widely implemented. Therefore, controls should be collected from earlier samples, even before October or November of 2019, to rule out unreported SARS-CoV-2 infection. One possible way to avoid including SARS-CoV-2 exposed individuals as negative controls is to use prepandemic bio-banked samples. Alternatively, individuals who are routinely tested for SARS-CoV-2, who have never had a positive test result would be the suitable “matched” uninfected group. This prospective evaluation of LFA effectiveness is especially critical as new variants circulate and may compromise the performance accuracy of the LFAs under evaluation.
      • Poterico J.A.
      • Mestanza O.
      Genetic variants and source of introduction of SARS-CoV-2 in South America.
      • Chen R.
      • Xie X.
      • Case J.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 variants show resistance to neutralization by many monoclonal and serum-derived polyclonal antibodies.
      • Wibmer C.K.
      • Ayres F.
      • Hermanus T.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2 escapes neutralization by South African COVID-19 donor plasma.
      However, in situations whereby controls are enrolled from the same SARS-CoV-2 exposed communities, repeat testing with highly sensitive molecular tests as well as complementary serologic tests that are more sensitive,
      • Norman M.
      • Gilboa T.
      • Ogata A.F.
      • et al.
      Ultrasensitive high-resolution profiling of early seroconversion in patients with COVID-19.
      would be important to rule out prior exposure to the virus. This is particularly critical in prospective studies whereby LFAs are evaluated using freshly collected samples, such as whole blood from finger pricks or saliva.
      • Singh N.K.
      • Ray P.
      • Carlin A.F.
      • et al.
      Hitting the diagnostic sweet spot: point-of-care SARS-CoV-2 salivary antigen testing with an off-the-shelf glucometer.

      Sampling schemes

      In addition to the choice of the population of interest for LFA evaluation, the samples can either be collected cross-sectionally or longitudinally or using a hybrid of the 2 designs.
      • Post N.
      • Eddy D.
      • Huntley C.
      • et al.
      Antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 infection in humans: a systematic review.
      ,
      • He Z.
      • Ren L.
      • Yang J.
      • et al.
      Seroprevalence and humoral immune durability of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Wuhan, China: a longitudinal, population-level, cross-sectional study.
      As above, the sampling scheme should address the intended use case. Evaluating LFAs to measure the durability of vaccine-induced antibodies will require longitudinal sampling,
      • Widge A.T.
      • Rouphael N.G.
      • Jackson L.A.
      • et al.
      Durability of responses after SARS-CoV-2 mRNA-1273 vaccination.
      whereas cross-sectional samples from confirmed SARS-CoV-2 exposed and unexposed individuals would suffice for the evaluation of LFAs for implementation in seroprevalence studies. For positive cases, samples should be collected at least 10 days
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      to 3 or more weeks
      • Whitman J.D.
      • Hiatt J.
      • Mowery C.T.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 serology assays reveals a range of test performance.
      after symptom onset, for those with clear COVID-19 symptoms, to allow sufficient time for seroconversion.
      • Zhao J.
      • Yuan Q.
      • Wang H.
      • et al.
      Antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in patients with novel coronavirus disease 2019.
      Asymptomatic study participants should be diagnosed by positive RT-qPCR results using a sensitive molecular test. In general, very low sensitivity and higher variability in accuracy were reported for LFAs measuring IgM and IgG from samples collected within a week postsymptoms onset.
      • Hashem A.M.
      • Alhabbab R.Y.
      • Algaissi A.
      • et al.
      Performance of commercially available rapid serological assays for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
      This is consistent with the often-delayed seroconversion in patients with COVID-19 which occurs around day 11 to 19 postsymptoms onset.
      • Hoffman T.
      • Nissen K.
      • Krambrich J.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of a COVID-19 IgM and IgG rapid test; an efficient tool for assessment of past exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
      Consequently, additional effort is required to improve the sensitivity of these assays for early detection of antibodies following symptoms onset.

      Sample size determination

      One of the biggest limitations with the initial FDA EUA process for the evaluation of COVID-19 diagnostics was the small number of clinical samples needed from confirmed SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals. Initial evaluations included fewer than 100 SARS-CoV-2 positive cases, which would only detect extreme differences in the accuracy of diagnostic platforms.,
      FIND. FIND (foundation for innovative new diagnostics) evaluation update: SARS-CoV-2 immunoassays. Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) Accelerator.
      This is particularly critical whereby the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infections in various communities is still relatively low, as lower prevalence reduces the positive predictive value (PPV) of these tests.
      • Tenny S.
      • Hoffman M.R.
      Prevalence.
      Sample sizes to ensure adequate power are inversely correlated with the effect size differences to be detected at a prespecified significance level.
      • Krzywinski M.
      • Altman N.
      Power and sample size.
      Consequently, a larger sample size will be required to compare the performance of 2 LFAs with close sensitivity levels (ie, small effect size), than comparing 2 LFAs with poor and excellent sensitivities (ie, large effect size). Considering the initially limited sample sizes for LFA evaluations, it is critical to expand sample sizes to validate the performance of LFAs to increase the confidence of assay performance before rollout.

      Sample choice

      Unlike nasopharyngeal swab samples that are hard to collect and have variable quality,
      • Griesemer S.B.
      • Van Slyke G.
      • Ehrbar D.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of specimen types and saliva stabilization solutions for SARS-CoV-2 testing.
      serology assays rely on serum and/or plasma samples collected from whole blood that is drawn by widely standardized procedures. Therefore, it is conceivable that some samples tested by RT-qPCR turn negative or indeterminate because of the quality of the sample tested or RNA degradation, leading to false-negative classifications. Serology is less likely to be impacted by sample quality. Furthermore, saliva samples have been evaluated for serology, particularly for the induction of IgA responses, but they are not the norm for LFA evaluations.
      • Griesemer S.B.
      • Van Slyke G.
      • Ehrbar D.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of specimen types and saliva stabilization solutions for SARS-CoV-2 testing.
      As the success of a diagnostic test depends on the quality of the biological specimen tested, serologic assays are appealing alternative tests because of the reliability of samples needed.

      Performance characteristics

      To evaluate the accuracy of LFAs, several performance metrics need to be assessed based on the intended use cases. These characteristics include sensitivity, specificity, PPV or precision, and negative predictive values (NPVs), inter and intra-operator reproducibility and finally, analytical sensitivity, also known as LoD.
      Sensitivity refers to the proportion of positive cases, defined by a gold standard test like a SARS-CoV-2 RT-qPCR, that are detected accurately by the test. A highly sensitive test will detect most cases, usually at the expense of inaccurately over-diagnosing uninfected individuals as false positives, and hence can be used to rule out disease when negative. PCR tests generally fall in this category,
      • Lorentzen H.F.
      • Schmidt S.A.
      • Sandholdt H.
      • et al.
      Estimation of the diagnostic accuracy of real-time reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction for SARS-CoV-2 using re-analysis of published data.
      as they are prone to detect very low concentrations of residual SARS-CoV-2 RNA molecules weeks after infection. Highly sensitive PCR tests may also detect contaminating templates from the environment or in the test reagents, as reported for the Cepheid Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2 test.
      • Falasca F.
      • Sciandra I.
      • Di Carlo D.
      • et al.
      Detection of SARS-COV N2 Gene: very low amounts of viral RNA or false positive?.
      In contrast, the sensitivity of serologic tests is confounded by other factors, including time since symptom onset, the immunocompetence of study participants, the reactivity of the antibodies from a given sample to the antigen, and the emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2. The sensitivity of some LFAs was evaluated in samples from hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in a case-control study design, which likely overestimated the sensitivity of these compared with the general population,
      • Takahashi S.
      • Greenhouse B.
      • Rodriguez-Barraquer I.
      Are seroprevalence estimates for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 biased?.
      leading to spectrum bias, that is, reporting different accuracies in the evaluation cohort and target population.
      Specificity is the proportion of SARS-CoV-2-negative samples, which are correctly detected as negative by the LFA. The specificity of LFAs is expected to be generally high and close to 100%.
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      ,
      • Whitman J.D.
      • Hiatt J.
      • Mowery C.T.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 serology assays reveals a range of test performance.
      ,
      • Post N.
      • Eddy D.
      • Huntley C.
      • et al.
      Antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 infection in humans: a systematic review.
      ,
      • Hashem A.M.
      • Alhabbab R.Y.
      • Algaissi A.
      • et al.
      Performance of commercially available rapid serological assays for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.
      ,
      • Lee W.
      • Straube S.
      • Sincic R.
      • et al.
      Clinical evaluation of a COVID-19 antibody lateral flow assay using point of care samples.
      False-positives results could be caused by SARS-CoV-2 LFA cross-reactivity of antibodies against other circulating coronaviruses,
      • Anderson E.M.
      • Goodwin E.C.
      • Verma A.
      • et al.
      Seasonal human coronavirus antibodies are boosted upon SARS-CoV-2 infection but not associated with protection.
      or inaccurate definitions of SARS-CoV-2 negative samples with a false-negative RT-qPCR or rapid antigen test result.
      PPV refers to the proportion of positive tests that are likely to correspond to a SARS-CoV-2-positive sample. Conversely, NPV is the proportion of negative tests that are likely to come from true SARS-CoV-2-negative samples. It is important to note that PPV and NPV are a function of both the accuracy of the test and the seroprevalence in each population. Low prevalence penalizes the PPV of diagnostic tests, whereby a positive result is more likely to be a false positive the lower the infection rates are in a given population.
      • Tenny S.
      • Hoffman M.R.
      Prevalence.
      Thus, test outcomes, especially in nonhealth care settings have to be interpreted with caution and with an understanding of the community transmission dynamics and test limitations.
      • Syal K.
      Guidelines on newly identified limitations of diagnostic tools for COVID-19 and consequences.
      Analytical sensitivity or LoD refers to the minimum SARS-CoV-2-specific antibody titers that are detectable by the LFA. Quantitative platforms such as ELISAs can be used to establish the LoD for LFAs, by adding titrated amounts of serologic standards with known antibody titers, and running them concurrently on the ELISA, or other quantitative platforms, and the LFAs under evaluation. Since LFAs are intended to be qualitative, it is worth considering whether a positive band needs to be detected by the naked eye, or whether additional smartphone apps or instruments can detect faint bands that correspond to low antibody concentrations in the sample.
      • Roda A.
      • Cavalera S.
      • Di Nardo F.
      • et al.
      Dual lateral flow optical/chemiluminescence immunosensors for the rapid detection of salivary and serum IgA in patients with COVID-19 disease.
      The LoD of LFAs is higher than known sensitive quantitative methods such as the ultrasensitive Single molecule array (SIMOA) platforms.
      • Bianca A.
      • Trombetta S.E.K.
      • Kitchen R.R.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of serological lateral flow assays for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2.
      ,
      • Norman M.
      • Gilboa T.
      • Ogata A.F.
      • et al.
      Ultrasensitive high-resolution profiling of early seroconversion in patients with COVID-19.
      ,
      • Nilles E.J.
      • Karlson E.W.
      • Norman M.
      • et al.
      Evaluation of two commercial and two non-commercial immunoassays for the detection of prior infection to SARS-CoV-2.
      However, a high LoD reduces the chance of misusing LFAs to ascribe immunity passports to individuals with low antibody titers to conservatively prevent overestimation of seroprevalence, and herd immunity.
      • Brown R.C.H.
      • Kelly D.
      • Wilkinson D.
      • et al.
      The scientific and ethical feasibility of immunity passports.
      ,
      • Waller J.
      • Rubin G.J.
      • Potts H.W.W.
      • et al.
      Immunity Passports' for SARS-CoV-2: an online experimental study of the impact of antibody test terminology on perceived risk and behaviour.
      Finally, testing the reproducibility of test results run by the same operator multiple times (intraoperator reproducibility), or between different operators (interoperator reproducibility), as well as reproducibility across different reagent lots would instill confidence in the reliability of the manufacturing quality of the LFAs.

      Impact of emerging variants on the performance of lateral flow assays

      The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants is an important consideration in the evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests, since SARS-CoV-2 antigenic drift may reduce the sensitivity of these tests.
      • Yuan M.
      • Huang D.
      • Lee C.D.
      • et al.
      Structural and functional ramifications of antigenic drift in recent SARS-CoV-2 variants.
      So far, at least 3 known variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been described that are characterized by novel genetic mutations. These include B.1.1.7,
      • Leung K.
      • Shum M.H.
      • Leung G.M.
      • et al.
      Early transmissibility assessment of the N501Y mutant strains of SARS-CoV-2 in the United Kingdom, October to November 2020.
      B.1.351,
      • Novazzi F.
      • Genoni A.
      • Spezia P.G.
      • et al.
      Introduction of SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern 20h/501Y.V2 (B.1.351) from Malawi to Italy.
      and P.1 and P.2.
      • Maggi F.
      • Novazzi F.
      • Genoni A.
      • et al.
      Imported SARS-CoV-2 variant P.1 in traveler returning from Brazil to Italy.
      B.1.1.7 has 23 mutations located in the open reading frame (ORF)1ab, ORF8, and N regions. Out of the 23 mutations, 17 are of concern whereby 13 are nonsynonymous, resulting in amino acid substitutions, and 4 are deletions. B.1.351 has 21 mutations including 9 amino acid changes in the S gene. The other mutations are in ORF1ab, ORF3a, N, and E genes. The P.1 variant has 10 mutations in the S gene, with additional mutations in ORF1ab, ORF8, and N genes. These emerging SARS-CoV-2 variant strains have compromised the ability of naturally induced antibodies to neutralize SARS-CoV-2.
      • Chen R.
      • Xie X.
      • Case J.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 variants show resistance to neutralization by many monoclonal and serum-derived polyclonal antibodies.
      For example, a new SARS-CoV-2 variant, 501Y.V2, substantially or completely escapes from neutralizing antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma.
      • Wibmer C.K.
      • Ayres F.
      • Hermanus T.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2 escapes neutralization by South African COVID-19 donor plasma.
      Variants of SARS-CoV-2 with the D614G mutation in the spike (S) protein that increases receptor-binding avidity have also been reported globally
      • Galloway S.E.
      • Paul P.
      • MacCannell D.R.
      • et al.
      Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 Lineage - United States, december 29, 2020-January 12, 2021.
      (Table 3). The B.1.351 and B.1.1.28 (P.1) variants are known to affect the performance of real-time RT-qPCR tests.
      • Galloway S.E.
      • Paul P.
      • MacCannell D.R.
      • et al.
      Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 Lineage - United States, december 29, 2020-January 12, 2021.
      Patients infected with the H69del/V70del SARS-CoV-2 variant have an increased Spike (S) protein gene amplification drop-out rate, which leads to RT-qPCR target failure.
      • Washington N.L.
      • White S.
      • Barrett K.M.S.
      • et al.
      S gene dropout patterns in SARS-CoV-2 tests suggest spread of the H69del/V70del mutation in the US.
      Table 3Summary of emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants
      Variant DesignationCharacteristic Mutations (Protein: Mutation) and Location
      1B.1.1.7 (20I/501Y.V1)ORF1ab: T1001I, A1708D, I2230 T, del3675–3677 SGF
      S: del69–70 HV, del144Y, N501Y, A570D, D614G, P681H, T761I, S982A, D1118H
      ORF8: Q27stop, R52I, Y73C N: D3L, S235F
      2B.1.351 (20H/501Y.V2)ORF1ab: K1655N
      E: P71L
      N: T205I
      S: K417N, E484K, N501Y, D614G, A701V
      3P.1 (20 J/501Y.V3)ORF1ab: F681L, I760T, S1188L, K1795Q, del3675–3677 SGF, E5662D
      S: L18F, T20N, P26S, D138Y, R190S, K417T, E484K, N501Y, D614G, H655Y, T1027I
      ORF3a: C174G ORF8: E92K ORF9: Q77E ORF14: V49L N: P80R
      ORF1ab: F681L, I760T, S1188L, K1795Q, del3675–3677SGF, E5662D
      S: L18F, T20N, P26S, D138Y, R190S, K417T, E484K, N501Y, D614G, H655Y, T1027I
      ORF3a: C174G ORF8: E92K ORF9: Q77E ORF14: V49L N: P80R
      ORF1ab: F681L, I760T, S1188L, K1795Q, del3675–3677SGF, E5662D
      The mature SARS-CoV-2 Spike trimer is composed of the exterior S1 and transmembrane S2 subunits.
      • Li Q.
      • Wu J.
      • Nie J.
      • et al.
      The impact of mutations in SARS-CoV-2 spike on viral infectivity and antigenicity.
      The S1 subunit uses the RBD to interact with the ACE2 receptor, whereas the S2 subunit governs the fusion between the viral and cellular membranes. Spike is considered the major target of the cellular and humoral responses against SARS-CoV-2 in natural infection.
      • Premkumar L.
      • Segovia-Chumbez B.
      • Jadi R.
      • et al.
      The receptor binding domain of the viral spike protein is an immunodominant and highly specific target of antibodies in SARS-CoV-2 patients.
      ,
      • Iyer A.S.
      • Jones F.K.
      • Nodoushani A.
      • et al.
      Persistence and decay of human antibody responses to the receptor binding domain of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in COVID-19 patients.
      Of all SARS-CoV-2 variants, the D614G mutant accounts for 75.7% of all circulating strains and is associated with severe clinical presentation.
      • Li Q.
      • Wu J.
      • Nie J.
      • et al.
      The impact of mutations in SARS-CoV-2 spike on viral infectivity and antigenicity.
      SARS-CoV-2 Spike D614G had a more severe impact on antibody binding than the wild-type strain.
      • Martin S.
      • Heslan C.
      • Jégou G.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV2 envelop proteins reshape the serological responses of COVID-19 patients.
      Studies using monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) have shown that V483A in the receptor-binding domain has a mutation frequency of more than 0.1%.
      • Galloway S.E.
      • Paul P.
      • MacCannell D.R.
      • et al.
      Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 Lineage - United States, december 29, 2020-January 12, 2021.
      It showed decreased reactivity to the 2 mAbs (P2B-2F6 and X593) and the A475V is significantly resistant to several neutralizing antibodies.
      • Galloway S.E.
      • Paul P.
      • MacCannell D.R.
      • et al.
      Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 Lineage - United States, december 29, 2020-January 12, 2021.
      Strains with combined D614G and I472V mutations have shown increased infectivity and more resistance to neutralizing antibodies.
      • Galloway S.E.
      • Paul P.
      • MacCannell D.R.
      • et al.
      Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 Lineage - United States, december 29, 2020-January 12, 2021.
      Some variants, including N439K, L452R, A475V, V483A, F490L, and Y508H, do have decreased sensitivity to neutralizing mAbs.
      • Galloway S.E.
      • Paul P.
      • MacCannell D.R.
      • et al.
      Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 Lineage - United States, december 29, 2020-January 12, 2021.
      Most LFAs target the C-terminus of viral nucleocapsid (N) protein. B.1.1.7 mutations on the N gene are located at the N-terminus. Hence, this variant is unlikely to show an impact on LFA performance as the epitope for antibody recognition likely remained intact despite the mutation. Other LFAs target S protein coded by S gene, which recent data show has a majority of mutations, including spike mutation E484K that affect antibody response, and hence could affect the LFA performance. Collectively, whether these mutations reduce the sensitivity of LFAs needs to be systematically evaluated (Table 4).
      Table 4The possible consequences of emerging SARS-CoV-2 mutations on LFA performance
      Variant DesignationImpact on Performance of Rapid Lateral Flow Assays
      B.1.1.7 (501Y.V1)The N gene mutations in this variant are located at the N-terminal. An assessment by Public Health England found that five SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen tests evaluated were all able to successfully detect the variant.
      • Jungnick S.
      • Hobmaier B.
      • Mautner L.
      • et al.
      Detection of the new SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 in five SARS-CoV-2 rapid antigen tests (RATs), Germany, March 2021.
      No evaluations were performed for serology LFAs.
      B.1.351 (501Y.V2)To date, no evaluation studies have been carried out to confirm that performance of serology LFAs is not affected, but no major performance deficits are anticipated.
      P.1 (501Y.V3) and P.2To date, no evaluation studies have been carried out to confirm that test performance is not affected, but no major performance deficits are anticipated.

      Prospects for Next-Generation Lateral Flow Assays to Detect Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Variants

      To evaluate the detection of SARS-CoV-2 variant-specific antibodies, the mutated antigen from the variants should be included in the kit, especially when amino acid changes in the SARS-CoV-2 antigens are sufficient to alter antibody binding.
      • Martin S.
      • Heslan C.
      • Jégou G.
      • et al.
      SARS-CoV2 envelop proteins reshape the serological responses of COVID-19 patients.
      Hence, recombinant antigens reflecting the pseudotypes of the emerging variants should be incorporated in the next generations of LFAs. Subsequent evaluation efforts for LFAs should perhaps analyze both the conserved and mutated antigens to distinguish whether an infection has occurred and whether antibodies were generated in response to a mutant strain. It is important to note that the difference in antigenicity may be too subtle to influence the detection of antibody responses. However, as new SARS-CoV-2 variants are still emerging, it is imperative to iteratively develop and improve LFA assays to detect variant-specific serologic responses.

      Evaluation of Implementation Feasibility and Fitness for Use

      Following the evaluation of the accuracy of LFAs, they need to be assessed for implementation effectiveness and fitness for use.
      • Humble R.M.
      • Merrill A.E.
      • Ford B.A.
      • et al.
      Practical considerations for implementation of SARS-CoV-2 serological testing in the clinical laboratory: Experience at an Academic medical center.
      ,
      • Huggett J.F.
      • Moran-Gilad J.
      • Lee J.E.
      COVID-19 new diagnostics development: novel detection methods for SARS-CoV-2 infection and considerations for their translation to routine use.
      Effectiveness reflects whether the LFA is fit for implementation in the intended population and settings by evaluating relevant factors, including required storage conditions and affordability, particularly in resource-limited countries and communities.
      • Peeling R.W.
      • Wedderburn C.J.
      • Garcia P.J.
      • et al.
      Serology testing in the COVID-19 pandemic response.
      For instance, if LFAs require refrigeration in hot regions with little access to stable electricity or testing in temperature-controlled settings as reported for rapid antigen LFAs,
      • Haage V.
      • Ferreira de Oliveira-Filho E.
      • Moreira-Soto A.
      • et al.
      Impaired performance of SARS-CoV-2 antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests at elevated and low temperatures.
      they may not be fit for implementation in those contexts. It is also important to evaluate whether the kit manufacturers or governments have assumed the financial responsibility to ramp up the supply chain to avail the LFAs to communities. If communities assume the financial burden of evaluation and cost for large-scale implementation, it is unlikely that results would meaningfully improve the public health outcomes of these communities.
      The WHO’s standard for point-of-care tests, including LFAs, need to be ASSURED- “Affordable, Sensitive, Specific, User-friendly, Rapid and robust, Equipment-free and Deliverable to end-users”.
      • Kosack C.S.
      • Page A.
      • Klatser P.R.
      A guide to aid the selection of diagnostic tests.
      Gaps in any of these criteria compromise the successful implementation of the evaluated LFAs, as previously reported for the diagnostics of sexually-transmitted infections.
      • WHO
      Mapping the landscape of diagnostics for sexually transmitted infections: key findings and recommendations.
      Hence, if sustainable scale-up of LFAs is intended, then pilots for LFA design and implementation should consider “beginning with the end in mind” framework that enhances its potential for future large-scale impact.

      World Health Organization. Beginning with the end in mind: planning pilot projects and other programmatic research for successful scaling up, 2011. World Health Organization. Available at: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/44708/9789241502320_eng.pdf;jsessionid=20930C5E4214A2F583E331724B127B14?sequence=1.

      For the successful programmatic implementation of LFAs in routine serosurveillance, the 13-step recommendation guide should be used:
      • 1.
        Participatory stakeholder engagement to build ownership, generate political commitment, and create champions of LFAs.
      • 2.
        Ensuring the product addresses relevant public health needs and that implementation is feasible.
      • 3.
        Building stakeholder consensus on the contextual implication of scale-up.
      • 4.
        Tailoring LFAs to diverse sociocultural and institutional settings to ensure early identification of both barriers and opportunities for scale-up.
      • 5.
        Ensuring LFAs be as simple as possible for the ease of future scale-up in diverse populations.
      • 6.
        The LFA should be tested in a variety of settings whereby scale-up is intended.
      • 7.
        Testing of implementation appropriateness should include day-to-day situations, and resource-constrained health care settings.
      • 8.
        The process of early implementation should be evaluated and documented using implementation research.
      • 9.
        Advocacy for financial support from governments, donors, and funding agencies for scale-up and funding for transition from pilot to large-scale rollout.
      • 10.
        Advocacy for review of policies, laws, and regulations to institutionalize LFAs at the national level and subsequent governance structures in countries.
      • 11.
        Laying down structures that promote learning and dissemination of information.
      • 12.
        Cautious, incremental, initial scale-up with appropriate documentation of the implementation pathway is crucial.
      • 13.
        Compare the LFA to other published methods.
      LFA evaluation studies should consider appropriate theoretic frameworks toward achieving adoption and sustainability. These should ideally guide evidence generation, contextualize implementation and facilitate iteration, adoption, and sustainability.

      Summary

      In conclusion, serologic LFAs can be useful tools for estimating the true extent of SARS-CoV-2 globally, which is estimated considering inaccuracies in reporting, limited availability of molecular tests, and asymptomatic transmission. Due to their affordability and ease of implementation, LFAs can be crucial tools in determining appropriate public health mitigation responses against the COVID-19 pandemic. However, their deployment should be coupled by rigorous evaluation both for their accuracy and their fitness for implementation in a variety of health care and community settings and can guide critical decisions such as the opening of economies from the socially and economically disruptive nation-wide lockdown measures. LFAs should also be evaluated in the context of vaccine rollouts and emerging variants.

      Clinics care points

      • Serological tests to monitor anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, including LFAs, are better suited for population surveillance and research studies to monitor the longevity of infection- or vaccine-induced antibody responses. However, they are not well-suited to inform clincial decisions at the individual level, since their performance relies on several characteristics, which impact their positive and negative predictive values.

      Acknowledgments

      S. Suliman is funded by a grant from Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (Accelerating Coronavirus Testing Solutions). J. Gitaka is funded by the African Academy of Sciences (Grants numbers GCA/MNCH/Round8/207/008 and SARSCov2-4-20-010) and the Royal Society, UK, Grant number FLR∖R1∖201314. L. Ochola is funded by the African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD) small grants program Reference SGPIII/0210/351.

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