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At-home testing for viruses could become a new norm

Posted at 10:43 AM, Jan 24, 2023

Imagine if when you got sick, you knew exactly what you were sick with, and therefore had an idea of how it spreads and how to treat it. That could be a reality in the future with the prevalence of at-home testing for other viruses beyond COVID.

Dr. Lisa Maragakis is a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She says the convenient and easy-to-use at-home tests for COVID-19 were a game changer during the pandemic.

"And this really raises the question of why we don't have more widespread at-home testing for other respiratory viruses like influenza or respiratory syncytial virus RSV," Dr. Maragakis said.

The so-called 'tripeldemic' of COVID-19, influenza and RSV last year brought to light the need for at-home testing for other viruses.

"One new challenge in respiratory virus season is having co-circulation of influenza, RSV and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19," Dr. Maragakis said. "And since we do have treatments that are different for the different viruses, we do need to know and cannot make the kind of empiric decisions or diagnoses that we used to be able to make in past flu seasons."

Dr. Maragakis says the science is there to create these types of tests, but they aren't widely available yet. Global life sciences company Labcorp announced last year emergency-use authorization from the FDA for an at-home collection kit that simultaneously detects COVID-19, influenza, or RSV.

You can order one online that will be shipped to your house free of charge if you have insurance. Without insurance, it's $169 dollars.

However, it's not a rapid test. It's a PCR test that you send to a lab, so it takes several days to get results. As at-home testing becomes more prevalent, Dr. Maragakis says public health leaders will need to take new challenges into consideration.

"We know, right now, that the publicly reported numbers for COVID-19 are just the tip of the iceberg because so many people are being diagnosed by these at-home tests and those data don't flow into the reported numbers," Dr. Maragakis said.

Dr. Maragakis says one solution could be developing a way for people to self report data from at-home tests. The other limitation is that not everyone may use the test correctly, and results could be inaccurate. Until health companies can provide convenient at-home tests for other viruses, Dr. Maragakis says your health care provider still offers the most precise test results.