Apr 18, 2023

Are they useful? Combination Flu and COVID-19 RATs now Available

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Image of COVID-19/Influenza A&B Antigen Test Kit (Source: @Coopesdetat on Twitter)

Combination Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) that detect COVID-19 and influenza A and B are now available in pharmacies across Australia, but how useful are they? 

These combination tests have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) since September 2022, with five of the seven available brands approved since the start of 2023.

SBS News interviewed Professor Catherine Bennett, the Chair of Epidemiology at Deakin University, who explained the importance of distinguishing between influenza and COVID-19, especially ahead of the upcoming flu season in Australia. 

“Knowing it’s COVID is important because that can actually change your decision about when you’re ready for a booster, the decision is based on six months from your last infection, or booster,” Ms Bennett said.

Cassandra Berry, a Professor of Immunology at Murdoch University, also highlighted the potential benefits of people being able to test at home, which could alleviate some of the demand on General Practitioners (GPs) and reduce the risk of spreading infection in waiting rooms.

However, it’s important to note that the TGA advises that the accuracy of these RATs may not be as reliable as laboratory Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, and results are more reliable when used by a person with symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza. 

The TGA also advises that people who test positive for either virus should consult with a medical practitioner or their State or Territory health department for follow-up care.

While some may see the availability of these tests as coming too late in the pandemic, Professor Berry believes that they will always have a purpose, especially if another variant emerges. 

“I don’t think we can ever say it’s too late down the track. I think it’ll always have a purpose,” she said.

One thing is for certain. The availability of these combination tests in pharmacies provides a convenient way for people to test for both COVID-19 and influenza A and B. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these tests may not be as accurate as laboratory PCR tests, and individuals should consult with a medical practitioner if they receive a positive result.

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