Incorporating false negative tests in epidemiological models for SARS-CoV-2 transmission and reconciling with seroprevalence estimates

Article Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Scientific Reports


Susceptible-Exposed-Infected-Removed (SEIR)-type epidemiologic models, modeling unascertained infections latently, can predict unreported cases and deaths assuming perfect testing. We apply a method we developed to account for the high false negative rates of diagnostic RT-PCR tests for detecting an active SARS-CoV-2 infection in a classic SEIR model. The number of unascertained cases and false negatives being unobservable in a real study, population-based serosurveys can help validate model projections. Applying our method to training data from Delhi, India, during March 15–June 30, 2020, we estimate the underreporting factor for cases at 34–53 (deaths: 8–13) on July 10, 2020, largely consistent with the findings of the first round of serosurveys for Delhi (done during June 27–July 10, 2020) with an estimated 22.86% IgG antibody prevalence, yielding estimated underreporting factors of 30–42 for cases. Together, these imply approximately 96–98% cases in Delhi remained unreported (July 10, 2020). Updated calculations using training data during March 15-December 31, 2020 yield estimated underreporting factor for cases at 13–22 (deaths: 3–7) on January 23, 2021, which are again consistent with the latest (fifth) round of serosurveys for Delhi (done during January 15–23, 2021) with an estimated 56.13% IgG antibody prevalence, yielding an estimated range for the underreporting factor for cases at 17–21. Together, these updated estimates imply approximately 92–96% cases in Delhi remained unreported (January 23, 2021). Such model-based estimates, updated with latest data, provide a viable alternative to repeated resource-intensive serosurveys for tracking unreported cases and deaths and gauging the true extent of the pandemic.



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Open Access, Gold

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