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Developers roll out new COVID-19 test that also detects influenza and RSV
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Developers roll out new COVID-19 test that also detects influenza and RSV

(ARUP lab workers, preparing specimens. Courtesy Lisa Carricaburu, ARUP)

SALT LAKE CITY – A new kind of COVID-19 test that can also detect influenza and RSV could ease some of the burden of overcrowding some hospitals are facing.  Researchers at ARUP Laboratories are rolling out a new kind of nasal swab that can detect three different respiratory illnesses with one exam. 

With COVID-19 already causing extreme strain on hospitals, doctors and nurses, health officials across Utah have been urging everyone to get their flu shot this year.  Analysts at ARUP Laboratories say a big influx of influenza patients could cripple the already struggling hospital system.  Doctor Adam Barker, ARUP COVID-19 Rapid Response Lab Director, says we haven’t seen that many confirmed cases of influenza so far, mostly because the precautions people are taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also work for other respiratory problems.  However, it’s too soon to know how bad flu season will be.

“We’re just starting into that season.  Flu season usually starts in November, really ramps up in December and January and it peaks in February,” Barker says.

(One of the testing kits administered by health care workers. Courtesy: Lisa Carricaburu, ARUP)

Developers at ARUP and Thermo Fisher Scientific are giving hospitals and clinics a new kind of test that can detect COVID-19, Influenza A/B and RSV, which is especially dangerous in young children and older adults.  Barker says not every cough is coronavirus-related, and treatment can vary wildly between these three illnesses.

Barker says, “All three of those illnesses are very similar when a patient contracts them.”

Patients will have to speak with their doctors to request this specific test, but, Barker says it would ensure patients don’t have to return for additional testing once one illness has been ruled out.

“You can do one test at one time and get all the information at one time rather than bringing people back to the clinics and back to the hospitals,” he says.

Barker believes some patients may overlook the flu and RSV since COVID-19 is grabbing all the attention across the country. 

He says, “Usually, during the flu season we would test for flu first, then if it’s not the flu, we look for the other respiratory viruses.  COVID shifted that on us, so, this year we wanted to make sure we were covering COVID.”

This particular exam is administered in one of two ways.  Health care workers can either use a deep nasal swab, or they can get samples from the back of the throat and inside the front of the nostrils.  Barker says saliva tests aren’t effective in detecting influenza.