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Rapid diagnostic tests are commonly used by hospital laboratories in England to detect rotavirus (RV), and results are used to inform clinical management and support national surveillance of the infant rotavirus immunisation programme since 2013. In 2017, the Public Health England (PHE) national reference laboratory for enteric viruses observed that the presence of RV could not be confirmed by PCR in a proportion of RV-positive samples referred for confirmatory detection.


We aimed to compare the positivity rate of detection methods used by hospital laboratories with the PHE confirmatory test rate.


Rotavirus specimens testing positive at local hospital laboratories were re-tested at the PHE national reference laboratory using a PCR test. Confirmatory results were compared to original results from the PHE laboratory information management system.


Hospital laboratories screened 70.1% (2,608/3,721) of RV samples using immunochromatographic assay (IC) or rapid tests, 15.5% (578/3,721) using enzyme immunoassays (EIA) and 14.4% (535/3,721) using PCR. Overall, 1,011/3,721 (27.2%) locally RV-positive samples referred to PHE in 2016 and 2017 failed RV detection using the PHE reference laboratory PCR test. Confirmation rates were 66.9% (1,746/2,608) for the IC tests, 87.4% (505/578) for the EIA and 86.4% (465/535) for the PCR assays. Seasonal confirmation rate discrepancies were also evident for IC tests.


This report highlights high false positive rates with the most commonly used RV screening tests and emphasises the importance of implementing verified confirmatory tests for RV detections. This has implications for clinical diagnosis and national surveillance.


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