Multiplex Testing: An Important Tool To Counter the Spread of Flu and COVID-19
A key part of the country’s ability to track and stop the spread of this virus and other infectious diseases is the continued development and evolution of novel testing methods that can address the diverse health needs of patients across the country. The recent introduction of multiplex testing is the latest example of the industry tackling two prominent public health threats: COVID-19 and influenza.
Influenza impacts millions of individuals annually in the United States. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that as many as 9.3 to 45 million people are infected by influenza each year, resulting in 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 – 61,000 deaths. Among those most susceptible to complications from the flu are older Americans over 65 years old, individuals with chronic conditions, pregnant women, young children and marginalized racial groups.
Multiplex testing is used for targeted cases as determined by a clinician, and is not a replacement for standard COVID-19 testing. For certain patients, such as those presenting with multiple symptoms associated with respiratory viral infections, multiplex testing allows providers to test for multiple viruses at once and provide a more comprehensive clinical diagnosis.
According to the CDC, patients may experience concurrent respiratory infections, making accurate identification of these viruses through a single diagnostic test even more important as the country faces a new surge of COVID-19 cases on top of flu season. Distinguishing these viruses is significant as they do not share the same treatment or public health implications, further underscoring the important role of multiplex testing for our broader public health response to the pandemic.
Though multiplex testing has played a key role in past flu seasons, several ACLA member laboratories have pioneered new multiplex tests to help providers quickly differentiate between SARS-CoV-2, influenza A, influenza B, RSV and other respiratory viruses that may have similar or overlapping symptoms.
Multiplex testing also helps clinical labs conserve important testing supplies, such as pipettes, swabs and reagents, all of which remain in high demand. By reducing the need for single-use testing, multiplex testing also decreases the consumption of critical testing supplies while delivering accurate and comprehensive results to both patients and providers. During continued high demand for COVID-19 tests and supply chain constraints, multiplex testing is vital to creating workflow efficiencies for clinical labs and streamlining test orders for patients, providers and public health authorities.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues alongside peak flu season, it is critical that Congress strengthen the federal protections that allow patients to access critical diagnostic tests without cost-sharing. Multiplex testing remains an essential tool for providers, patients and public health officials to help manage this challenging flu season and the continued spread of COVID-19.