Diagnostic accuracy of lung ultrasound for SARS-CoV-2: a retrospective cohort study

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Background: As medical infrastructures are strained by SARS-CoV-2, rapid and accurate screening tools are essential. In portions of the world, reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing remains slow and in limited supply, and computed tomography is expensive, inefficient, and involves exposure to ionizing radiation. Multiple studies evaluating the efficiency of lung point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) have been published recently, but include relatively small cohorts and often focus on characteristics associated with severe illness rather than screening efficacy. This study utilizes a retrospective cohort to evaluate the test characteristics (sensitivity, specificity, likelihood ratios, predictive values) of lung POCUS in the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2, and to determine lung score cutoffs that maximize performance for use as a screening tool. Results: Lung POCUS examinations had sensitivity 86%, specificity 71.6%, NPV 81.7%, and PPV 77.7%. The Lung Ultrasound Score had an area under the curve of 0.84 (95% CI 0.78, 0.90). When including only complete examinations visualizing 12 lung fields, lung POCUS had sensitivity 90.9% and specificity 75.6%, with NPV 87.2% and PPV 82.0% and an area under the curve of 0.89 (95% CI 0.83, 0.96). Lung POCUS was less accurate in patients with a history of interstitial lung disease, severe emphysema, and heart failure. Conclusions: When applied in the appropriate patient population, lung POCUS is an inexpensive and reliable tool for rapid screening and diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 in symptomatic patients with influenza-like illness. Adoption of lung POCUS screening for SARS-CoV-2 may identify patients who do not require additional testing and reduce the need for RT-PCR testing in resource-limited environments and during surge periods.




Brenner, D. S., Liu, G. Y., Omron, R., Tang, O., Garibaldi, B. T., & Fong, T. C. (2021). Diagnostic accuracy of lung ultrasound for SARS-CoV-2: a retrospective cohort study. Ultrasound Journal, 13(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13089-021-00217-7

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