Imagine if one test could track COVID-19, the flu, and RSV at the same time. It's possible, and researchers are working on it right now.
The next step is figuring out how to get it to doctors across the country.
"This is what it looks like in real life. People get little sniffles, headache, a little cough and they are sure they have COVID-19 — except that’s not the only respiratory virus we see,” said Dr. Jakub Tolar, the dean at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
Tolar points out that it's easy for people to self-diagnose to the worst-case scenario.
“People always think they have the worst ever thing and are almost certain they have it,” he said. “This is tremendously anxiety-provoking.”
So, imagine there was a medical test that could relieve those anxieties and figure out, right then and there, whether a person has COVID-19 or another illness.
“Viruses present very similarly as a respiratory illness, but in terms of their genetic makeup, are very different,” said Dr. Mark Osborn, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
To develop the new test, Osborn and his team are used a tool that was awarded the Noble Prize in chemistry — what he calls a "smart weapon."
"The material is added to a test strip and gives you a visual band for a positive test, and then we can use the same technology in a more structured laboratory setting to then use the same sample and then test for four things simultaneously,” Osborne said.
Those four things are COVID-19, influenza A and B, and RSV. All of the symptoms of those viruses are pretty similar.
“All (of those viruses) have overlapping symptoms, so being able to detect and distinguish them in the same tube at the same time, we hope will add to the arsenal of material we could bring to bear against these respiratory illnesses,” Osborne said.
“With this test, we can — at the point of encounter in the office of your general practitioner or your primary care doctor — you can actually get an answer, right there,” Tolar said.
Now, Osborn and his team are working on regulation, which means getting it to the public. The test will work for all age groups and will help doctors diagnosed viruses, so they can get patients the medicine they need.