Lateral Flow Flu Test Could Prevent Overuse of Antibiotics

Swiss giant Roche claims its latest innovation in the lucrative testing market can distinguish between Covid and Flu and potentially prevent hospital admissions
Lateral Flow Flu Test Could Prevent Overuse of Antibiotics
The logo of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche is seen in Basel in a file photograph. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images)
Rachel Roberts

A 30-minute flu test being trialed in care homes could help stop doctors from over-prescribing antibiotics as well as preventing hospital admissions by treating the illness in more vulnerable people earlier.

The lateral flow tests, which are said to work in the same way as COVID-19 kits by using saliva samples, are being trialed in care homes in the Yorkshire and Humber region.

Antibiotics have no effect on viral infections, but their over-use can have negative health impacts as well as leading to antibiotic resistance where they cease to have any effect even when they may be needed to treat and prevent bacterial infections.

Flu can have serious consequences in the elderly, those with certain underlying health conditions, and very occasionally in children, meaning its early detection is important for the vulnerable so that appropriate treatment can be given.

A new rapid antigen test has been developed by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, which claims it can diagnose both flu and COVID-19—and distinguish between them—helping doctors to either rule out both viruses or to treat patients quickly and effectively with antivirals if necessary.

Roche Diagnostics UK and Ireland said: “Faster diagnosis and treatment of flu could prevent serious illness, reduce the use of antibiotics, and ease pressure on the NHS.

“Results have shown that diagnosing patients earlier allows for faster interventions, reduced hospitalisation rates, and the ability to provide appropriate treatments for patients more rapidly.

“Tests that can detect or diagnose disease early, or in some cases prevent it altogether, could play a vital role in tackling the challenges faced by the NHS, preserving precious resources for the people who need them most.”

Doctors sometimes use the PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, test to diagnose flu, but results can take 48 hours to come back from the lab, by which time it may be too late to administer antivirals.

The COVID-19 rapid flow tests were widely used during the era of lockdowns and restrictions, although their reliability was questioned by some users, amid claims that consuming fizzy drinks could yield false positive results.

The UK government spent close to £4 billion on the Chinese-made, U.S.-supplied Innova lateral flow tests since 2020, with questions raised about their effectiveness in June 2021 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to the public: “Stop Using Innova Medical Group SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Qualitative Test” and urged them to “destroy the tests by placing them in the trash.”

The FDA said it had significant concerns about their performance, which had not been adequately established. In addition, “labeling distributed with certain configurations of the test includes performance claims that did not accurately reflect the performance estimates observed during the clinical studies of the tests.”

The market for consumer testing for illnesses and conditions of all kinds has exploded in recent years, with everything from gene-testing kits to home diagnostic tools for serious illnesses being offered.

In 2022, Roche launched a new dual antigen and antibody diagnostic test for hepatitis C, which it claims gives an earlier diagnosis of the virus.

Roche plans to run its current pilot of the flu and COVID-19 dual test until March, and dependent on the results, a home test could be available in the future.

Rachel Roberts is a London-based journalist with a background in local then national news. She focuses on health and education stories and has a particular interest in vaccines and issues impacting children.
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