PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles

Infectious Diseases - Pediatrics and Child Health - Physiology - Public Health and Epidemiology

Spectrum and Inoculum Size Effect of a Rapid Antigen Detection Test for Group A Streptococcus in Children with Pharyngitis
Published: Friday, June 29, 2012
Author: Jérémie F. Cohen et al.

by Jérémie F. Cohen, Martin Chalumeau, Corinne Levy, Philippe Bidet, Franck Thollot, Alain Wollner, Edouard Bingen, Robert Cohen


The stability of the accuracy of a diagnostic test is critical to whether clinicians can rely on its result. We aimed to assess whether the performance of a rapid antigen detection test (RADT) for group A streptococcus (GAS) is affected by the clinical spectrum and/or bacterial inoculum size.


Throat swabs were collected from 785 children with pharyngitis in an office-based, prospective, multicenter study (2009–2010). We analysed the effect of clinical spectrum (i.e., the McIsaac score and its components) and inoculum size (light or heavy GAS growth) on the accuracy (sensitivity, specificity, likelihood ratios and predictive values) of a RADT, with laboratory throat culture as the reference test. We also evaluated the accuracy of a McIsaac-score–based decision rule.


GAS prevalence was 36% (95CI: 33%–40%). The inoculum was heavy for 85% of cases (81%–89%). We found a significant spectrum effect on sensitivity, specificity, likelihood ratios and positive predictive value (p<0.05) but not negative predictive value, which was stable at about 92%. RADT sensitivity was greater for children with heavy than light inoculum (95% vs. 40%, p<0.001). After stratification by inoculum size, the spectrum effect on RADT sensitivity was significant only in patients with light inoculum, on univariate and multivariate analysis. The McIsaac-score–based decision rule had 99% (97%–100%) sensitivity and 52% (48%–57%) specificity.


Variations in RADT sensitivity only occur in patients with light inocula. Because the spectrum effect does not affect the negative predictive value of the test, clinicians who want to rule out GAS can rely on negative RADT results regardless of clinical features if they accept that about 10% of children with negative RADT results will have a positive throat culture. However, such a policy is more acceptable in populations with very low incidence of complications of GAS infection.