Current best evidence for clinical care (more info)
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the diagnostic performance of the initial chest CT to diagnose COVID-19 related pneumonia in a French population of patients with respiratory symptoms according to the time from the onset of country-wide confinement to better understand what could be the role of the chest CT in the different phases of the epidemic.
MATERIAL AND METHOD: Initial chest CT of 1064 patients with respiratory symptoms suspect of COVID-19 referred between March 18th, and May 12th 2020, were read according to a standardized procedure. The results of chest CTs were compared to the results of the RT-PCR.
RESULTS: 546 (51%) patients were found to be positive for SARS-CoV2 at RT-PCR. The highest rate of positive RT-PCR was during the second week of confinement reaching 71.9%. After six weeks of confinement, the positive RT-PCR rate dropped significantly to 10.5% (p<0.001) and even 2.2% during the two last weeks. Overall, CT revealed patterns suggestive of COVID-19 in 603 patients (57%), whereas an alternative diagnosis was found in 246 patients (23%). CT was considered normal in 215 patients (20%) and inconclusive in 1 patient. The overall sensitivity of CT was 88%, specificity 76%, PPV 79%, and NPV 85%. At week-2, the same figures were 89%, 69%, 88% and 71% respectively and 60%, 84%, 30% and 95% respectively at week-6. At the end of confinement when the rate of positive PCR became extremely low the sensitivity, specificity, PPV and NPV of CT were 50%, 82%, 6% and 99% respectively.
CONCLUSION: At the peak of the epidemic, chest CT had sufficiently high sensitivity and PPV to serve as a first-line positive diagnostic tool but at the end of the epidemic wave CT is more useful to exclude COVID-19 pneumonia.
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The results of this study are interesting. However, I think there are some issues in the methodology. The time elapsed since the onset of respiratory symptoms averaged 48 hours (range 2–168 h). It was very wide. It is very important to determine at what point the diagnoses on CT image are confirmed. It should be prespecified. Were the learning levels of proficiency of two radiologists adequate for diagnosis of this illness? Was the RT-PCR-based diagnosis appropriate to make a final diagnosis?
The article analyzes the evolution of the diagnostic aspects of the TAC for COVID-19, throughout the first wave of the pandemic. I consider that the work presents a level of evidence II, grade of recommendation B.