Studies on effectiveness of lateral flow tests

26 July 2021

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has highlighted the findings from three studies on the real-world use of rapid tests, known as lateral flow devices (LFDs), arguing that it confirms their effectiveness under a variety of conditions.

The three research papers, two of which have been published by the Government and one by Liverpool University, can all be found at GOV.UK.

They analyse the use of LFDs in a variety of scenarios: against variants of concern; on patients with high or low viral loads; as part of mass testing campaigns; in the hands of inexperienced users; and with different types of swabs.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) Chief Executive, Dr Jenny Harries, said: “These rapid tests continue to play an integral role in helping us stay on top of this virus by quickly identifying positive cases that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. This enables us to take swift action, preventing asymptomatic cases from becoming outbreaks.”

The findings show the tests using LFDs are more sensitive (how good the test is at detecting true positives) with higher viral loads (people most likely to be infectious).

Analysis of the Innova LFDs and their ability to detect the Delta (B.1.617.2) and Alpha (B.1.1.7) variants of concern found there was no significant change in the sensitivity of the tests when identifying either variant.

The paper published by Liverpool University shows that there was a clear public health value to mass testing campaigns.

During the community testing pilot, which it examines in detail, the widespread testing of asymptomatic individuals resulted in an estimated increase in case detection of 18% when compared to other areas where the pilot was not running.