Studies published in Radiology suggest chest CTs can diagnose COVID-19 pneumonia with a shorter processing time and as much accuracy as the standard DNA testing method, RT-PCR. However, the American College of Radiology (ACR) has stated that CT should not be used as a first-line screening tool for the virus.
On February 26, 2020, a study covering more than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 found that chest CT was more effective in early diagnosis of the disease than RT-PCR.
Two radiologists reviewed 1,014 cases in Wuhan City, China, using the patients’ epidemiological history, clinical symptoms and chest CTs. Without knowing the RT-PCR results, the radiologists classified the chest CT scans as positive or negative for COVID-19.
The RT-PCR testing for these patients detected COVID-19 in only 59% of the cases.
Using the chest CTs, 88% of the patients were determined positive for COVID-19.
Among the initial negative RT-PCR results, 93% of cases showed CT features consistent with COVID-19 diagnosis prior to being confirmed for the virus using RT-PCR four or more days after the initial test.
So what does this mean?
Chest CT achieved a sensitivity of 97%, a specificity of 25%, and an accuracy of 68% for diagnosis of COVID-19 in early detection of suspected cases. RT-PCR was still used as the reference standard to confirm each of the cases that were determined positive using chest CTs.
Although RT-PCR is still the standard test method for COVID-19, CTs have a much faster processing time, and this could be a game-changer in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic.
What does this mean for healthcare providers?
"Our data and analysis suggest that chest CT should be considered for COVID-19 screening, comprehensive evaluation, and follow-up, especially in epidemic areas with high pretest probability for disease," concluded the authors of the study, led by Dr. Tao Ai, PhD, and Dr. Zhenlu Yang, PhD, from Huazhong University of Science and Technology.
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