SARS-CoV-2 infectivity by viral load, S gene variants and demographic factors and the utility of lateral flow devices to prevent transmission
Lee LYW., Rozmanowski S., Pang M., Charlett A., Anderson C., Hughes GJ., Barnard M., Peto L., Vipond R., Sienkiewicz A., Hopkins S., Bell J., Crook DW., Gent N., Walker AS., Peto TEA., Eyre DW.
Abstract Background How SARS-CoV-2 infectivity varies with viral load is incompletely understood. Whether rapid point-of-care antigen lateral flow devices (LFDs) detect most potential transmission sources despite imperfect clinical sensitivity is unknown. Methods We combined SARS-CoV-2 testing and contact tracing data from England between 01-September-2020 and 28-February-2021. We used multivariable logistic regression to investigate relationships between PCR-confirmed infection in contacts of community-diagnosed cases and index case viral load, S gene target failure (proxy for B.1.1.7 infection), demographics, SARS-CoV-2 incidence, social deprivation, and contact event type. We used LFD performance to simulate the proportion of cases with a PCR-positive contact expected to be detected using one of four LFDs. Results 231,498/2,474,066(9%) contacts of 1,064,004 index cases tested PCR-positive. PCR-positive results in contacts independently increased with higher case viral loads (lower Ct values) e.g., 11.7%(95%CI 11.5-12.0%) at Ct=15 and 4.5%(4.4-4.6%) at Ct=30. B.1.1.7 infection increased PCR-positive results by ~50%, (e.g. 1.55-fold, 95%CI 1.49-1.61, at Ct=20). PCR-positive results were most common in household contacts (at Ct=20.1, 8.7%[95%CI 8.6-8.9%]), followed by household visitors (7.1%[6.8-7.3%]), contacts at events/activities (5.2%[4.9-5.4%]), work/education (4.6%[4.4-4.8%]), and least common after outdoor contact (2.9%[2.3-3.8%]). Contacts of children were the least likely to test positive, particularly following contact outdoors or at work/education. The most and least sensitive LFDs would detect 89.5%(89.4-89.6%) and 83.0%(82.8-83.1%) of cases with PCR-positive contacts respectively. Conclusions SARS-CoV-2 infectivity varies by case viral load, contact event type, and age. Those with high viral loads are the most infectious. B.1.1.7 increased transmission by ~50%. The best performing LFDs detect most infectious cases.