Is Flu the Next Pandemic? - Episode 11
Testing for COVID-19 and Flu
Getting real time results when testing for COVID-19 and influenza.
Peter Salgo, MD: What are the options? Right now, if you want to be in the physician’s office, the PCP [primary care provider] office, or someplace where the patient trusts that the test will be done properly, and you’ll get the results, what are the rapid testing options for both COVID-19 and influenza, each of them separately? George, can you spell that out for us?
George Loukatos, MD: There’s a pretty large plate you can choose from. We’ve gone through our own vetting process to find what’s most accurate as far as sensitivity and specificity, and what’s most affordable to the patient. But it starts with the conventional PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test for COVID-19 and PCR test and viral panel PCR test where you can get the flu, adenovirus, and every virus out there. Those tend to be very expensive, so we shy away from them at our urgent care centers.
Then they transition into the equipment-required tests, like the Abbott and the Sofia tests, which are molecular tests that you run through a machine. They’re typically around the same time line, 15 to 30 minutes from the time you swab the patient to when you get a result spit out to you. We’re most commonly using the basic chromatographic type, like a pregnancy test, where 1 line is negative and 2 lines is positive. As those tests have become more accurate, that’s where we’re leaning, at least for our low-risk patients. Every situation is different, as we alluded to. If you’ve got an octogenarian with a fever and you get a negative flu and COVID-19 test, I’m probably going to confirm with a PCR because I want to be able to initiate proper therapy on that person if they have 1 of those 2.
Peter Salgo, MD: But are those machines that you outlined, including the chromatographic tests, suitable for in-office, private practitioner, rapid care center use? Are they cost effective? What do they cost?
George Loukatos, MD: That’s a good question, because the cost has come down significantly. When I started testing, we started using Abbott and had to sign a very large purchase agreement to even be considered to get some tests. The tests weren’t available unless you were willing to commit to a big purchase. Those were in the mid-$40 range per test. Now the tests are coming down to where you can get certain brands of antigen tests that are the chromatographic type for less than $10. The cost of testing has come down significantly. It’s been a big issue and a big plus for us. As they become more common, supply and demand has kicked in.
Peter Salgo, MD: I want to thank all of you for watching this Contagion® Peer Exchange. If you enjoyed the content, please subscribe to our e-newsletters to receive upcoming Peer Exchange segments and other great content right in your in-box.
Transcript edited for clarity.