If you go to see a doctor with flu-like symptoms this flu season, chances are you will be swabbed for two tests: one for the flu, and one for the COVID-19. Unlike the flu season when there is no epidemic, doctors cannot be sure that there is body pain and fever causes the flu. This will change the diagnostic process for both diseases.
“This year if it looks and smells like the flu, it could be the flu or COVID-19,” says Richard Webby, an infectious diseases researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
It is important to distinguish one from the other. Treatment methods cannot differ: one with a mild case of flu and one with a mild case of COVID-19 will both be sent home to rest and recover. Someone is aware that there is COVID-19, however, which means they may be asked to watch out for signs that the disease is becoming more severe. A COVID-19 diagnosis also triggers public health interventions such as contact tracing, so that the virus cannot continue to spread.
“We want to get rid of both of them, but coronavirus is what we’re really trying to control,” Webby says. “We want to get that person out of vogue as soon as possible.”
Anthony Befoe-Bonnie, chief of infectious disease at Carillion Clinic in Virginia, says doctors regularly conduct rapid flu tests in their offices, which are back within 15 minutes. The flu season is not yet up, so as of now, the first step for any patient to treat respiratory symptoms would be to test them for COVID-19. Once the flu test starts to return positively to his area and when the flu surveillance system starts reporting that the virus is transmitting, he says he will start testing for the flu.
There are some tests available that can test both influenza and COVID-19 at once: health care companies Roche and Cepheid have Food and Drug Administration authorizations for joint trials, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention One is available for public health. Laboratories. Those are the best way, Bafo-Boni says. But they may not be available in every region and every hospital – most places may have to depend on two separate tests.
Right now, joint tests are genetic tests: they look for fragments of the influenza genetic sequence and fragments of the coronovirus genetic sequence. Those types of tests require more specialized machinery. The standard, outpatient flu test is usually an antigen test, which looks for proteins that stick to the influenza virus. These tests work fast, and results can be returned in about 15 minutes, but are less accurate than genetic tests. Both options are also available for COVID-19 tests.
If a combined test is not available, both the flu and COVID-19 may be tested, which may mean a combination of test types. One can get a rapid flu test for the flu, but a slow, gene-based COVID-19 test. A doctor may decide to send genetic tests for both viruses to a laboratory, which may take a few days to turn over. People can go to the walk-in COVID-19 testing site for a rapid test, and go to the doctor for a flu test if it comes back negative.
Befoe-Boni says that his clinic plans to start with genetic tests for the virus, while having some ability to do rapid antigen tests if necessary.
All this testing can help patients receive better treatment – but it can also be very expensive, concerns Edward Belongia, director of the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Population Health at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, Wisconsin. Under the CARES Act at the onset of an epidemic in the United States, COVID-19 tests are considered free to patients. “This is not true for the flu,” he says. In March and April, some people who thought they were COVID-19 were charged thousands of dollars for testing other respiratory viruses such as the flu.
“We don’t want people discouraged from coming in and testing because they’re worried about the cost of lab tests,” says Belongia.
This is a particular concern, as increased testing – and all costs associated with it – may not be limited to this flu season. There is still a chance that, even after the epidemic passes, the coronavirus can continue to propagate through the population every year. If this happens, some adjustments in the way doctors are diagnosed with the flu may be more permanent, Weby says. Influenza will not be the only culprit for fever, which is the patient – they also have to consider other viruses.
“I think that will force [the] system Only specifically the flu, but to replace the entire respiratory virus test pipeline, ”he says.