The coronavirus pandemic has threatened the health of Americans for more than a year, and the outbreak of new and more dangerous strains of the virus are discouraging at best.
Just over 50% of Americans are fully vaccinated according to federal data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but case numbers are surging particularly in populations where vaccination rates are low. In fact, the CDC shows that 97% percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
Nationwide and global surges of COVID-19 variants are particularly dangerous for vulnerable populations – including children. Children currently make up 15% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., including a 4% jump within the past three weeks alone, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Overall, COVID-19 cases have tripled within the past month and are expected to continue rising. According to CDC data, new daily COVID-19 hospitalization rates in the U.S. have increased 82% in just over the first two weeks of August, with all 50 states seeing hospitalization rates trend upward.
This rising trend in COVID-19 infections is compounded by the impending – and likely extremely unpredictable – flu season. Because of lockdowns, mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing, flu rates were at a record low last season. While it was good news at the time, it means scientists are left with little data to create a vaccine designed to target this season’s strains. Typically, flu vaccines are developed with a more robust understanding of the previous season strains’ genetic and antigenic makeup.
And since COVID-19 and the flu present with similar symptoms, diagnosis will be a challenging process for many, especially as co-infection – both viruses occurring simultaneously in the same individual – can occur. Before the pandemic, it was common for patients to wonder, “Do I have a cold or the flu?” and perhaps hesitate to see a healthcare professional immediately. Now patients are much more likely to question, “Do I have COVID-19 or the flu?” and quickly visit a healthcare professional to obtain a diagnosis.
Although getting vaccinated remains the number one preventative measure against COVID-19, along with wearing a mask indoors or in crowded spaces, getting healthcare providers the tools they need to diagnose and treat patients this upcoming flu season will be paramount. Combination testing is the ideal choice as it is effective in diagnosing both COVID-19 and the flu – quickly and accurately.
Using one test to “rule out” one type of infection is an outdated clinical strategy and simply ineffective. Combination tests screen for both infections with one swab, saving time and resources, as well as minimizing stress to the patient. These tests are especially useful when detecting either or both viral strains in the patient.
While combination tests should be used for molecular tests in hospital labs, low-cost, easy-to-use rapid antigen combination tests at the point of care will enable the first line of defense for testing on the front lines at doctor’s offices, urgent care centers and retail clinics. As we continue to determine the long-term effectiveness of vaccines as well as their efficacy against variants, testing will continue to offer one of the most important forms of protection.
Rapid testing not only enables the right care as quickly and efficiently as possible, but also helps prevent diseases from spreading. A global leader in medical technology healthcare diagnostics, BD offers healthcare professionals a flexible menu of testing assays that are simple, quick, and reliable triage tools, including the 3-in-1 COVID-19/Flu A+B assay on the BD Veritor ™ Plus System, which produces digital display results for all three viruses via one test and one sample within 15 minutes.
Testing continues to be an important strategy for safeguarding people against the threat of being infected or infecting others, especially as the likelihood that the viruses will evolve and spread continues to rise.
For those on the frontlines of our healthcare system, now is the time to create plans on how to manage the potential for increasing cases of COVID-19 and the flu this fall and winter. Having access to a combined test will be critical to successful patient care, and ultimately, will help prevent this threat to public health.