Is it appropriate to use fixed assay cut-offs for estimating seroprevalence?

G. Kafatos*, Nicholas Andrews, K. J. McConway, P. A.C. Maple, Kevin Brown, C. P. Farrington

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Population seroprevalence can be estimated from serosurveys by classifying quantitative measurements into positives (past infection/vaccinated) or negatives (susceptible) according to a fixed assay cut-off. The choice of assay cut-offs has a direct impact on seroprevalence estimates. A time-resolved fluorescence immunoassay (TRFIA) was used to test exposure to human parvovirus 4 (HP4). Seroprevalence estimates were obtained after applying the diagnostic assay cut-off under different scenarios using simulations. Alternative methods for estimating assay cut-offs were proposed based on mixture modelling with component distributions for the past infection/vaccinated and susceptible populations. Seroprevalence estimates were compared to those obtained directly from the data using mixture models. Simulation results showed that when there was good distinction between the underlying populations all methods gave seroprevalence estimates close to the true one. For high overlap between the underlying components, the diagnostic assay cut-off generally gave the most biased estimates. However, the mixture model methods also gave biased estimates which were a result of poor model fit. In conclusion, fixed cut-offs often produce biased estimates but they also have advantages compared to other methods such as mixture models. The bias can be reduced by using assay cut-offs estimated specifically for seroprevalence studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)887-895
Number of pages9
JournalEpidemiology and Infection
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Assay
  • cut-off
  • mixture models
  • serology
  • seroprevalence


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