Epidemiol Infect 149 (-) e150 [2021-06-23; online 2021-06-23]
We assessed severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) diagnostic sensitivity and cycle threshold (Ct) values relative to symptom onset in symptomatic coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) patients from Bavaria, Germany, of whom a subset was repeatedly tested. Locally weighted scatterplot smoothing method was used to assess the relationship between symptom onset and Ct-values. Kaplan-Meier plots were used to visualise the empirical probability of detecting viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) over time and estimate the time until clearance of viral RNA among the repeatedly tested patients. Among 721 reported COVID-19 cases, the viral RNA was detected in specimens taken between three days before and up to 48 days after symptom onset. The mean Ct-value was 28.6 (95% confidence interval (CI) 28.2-29.0) with the lowest mean Ct-value (26.2) observed two days after symptom onset. Up to 7 days after symptom onset, the diagnostic sensitivity of the RT-PCR among repeatedly sampled patients (n = 208) remained above 90% and decreased to 50% at day 12 (95% CI 10.5-21.5). Our data provide valuable estimates to optimise the timing of sampling of individuals for SARS-CoV-2 detection. A considerable proportion of specimens sampled before symptom onset had Ct-values comparable with Ct-values after symptom onset, suggesting the probability of presymptomatic transmission.