Towards reduction in bias in epidemic curves due to outcome misclassification through Bayesian analysis of time-series of laboratory test results: Case study of COVID-19 in Alberta, Canada and Philadelphia, USA

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Abstract

© 2020 The Author(s). Background: Despite widespread use, the accuracy of the diagnostic test for SARS-CoV-2 infection is poorly understood. The aim of our work was to better quantify misclassification errors in identification of true cases of COVID-19 and to study the impact of these errors in epidemic curves using publicly available surveillance data from Alberta, Canada and Philadelphia, USA. Methods: We examined time-series data of laboratory tests for SARS-CoV-2 viral infection, the causal agent for COVID-19, to try to explore, using a Bayesian approach, the sensitivity and specificity of the diagnostic test. Results: Our analysis revealed that the data were compatible with near-perfect specificity, but it was challenging to gain information about sensitivity. We applied these insights to uncertainty/bias analysis of epidemic curves under the assumptions of both improving and degrading sensitivity. If the sensitivity improved from 60 to 95%, the adjusted epidemic curves likely falls within the 95% confidence intervals of the observed counts. However, bias in the shape and peak of the epidemic curves can be pronounced, if sensitivity either degrades or remains poor in the 60-70% range. In the extreme scenario, hundreds of undiagnosed cases, even among the tested, are possible, potentially leading to further unchecked contagion should these cases not self-isolate. Conclusion: The best way to better understand bias in the epidemic curves of COVID-19 due to errors in testing is to empirically evaluate misclassification of diagnosis in clinical settings and apply this knowledge to adjustment of epidemic curves.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Volume20
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 6 Jun 2020

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