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Patients with respiratory illness to be tested for Covid-19 'irrespective of community levels' during flu season

The HSPC also outlined testing recommendations for a number of settings including nursing homes and workplaces.

Image: Shutterstock/Peter Galleghan

PATIENTS WHO PRESENT at hospital with respiratory illnesses should be tested for both Covid-19 and influenza regardless of the level of community circulation during the Winter months, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre has recommended. 

The HPSC convened a subgroup of the National Covid-19 Testing Strategy Group and has made a number of recommendations as to when either Covid-19 testing or Influenza testing, or both, should be employed for patients at nursing homes, and in primary care and hospital settings.

The recommendations identify when a test for Covid-19 and another test for Influenza, known as the winter flu, should occur, and when just one of the two should occur. 

“If a patient presents in the community or to hospital with respiratory symptoms they should be tested for Covid-19, irrespective of circulating Covid-19 levels in the community,” it said.

“When circulating influenza levels remain below the ECDC specified threshold, as evidenced by the results from the sentinel GP practices, a test for influenza in these patients is not required.”

The document specifically recognises when a person should be tested for Covid-19 while presenting at different settings.

When a patient presents at hospital with respiratory illness, they should be tested for Covid-19 regardless of circulating levels in the hospital itself or in the community. 

“All patients with respiratory symptoms who require hospital admission should have a full respiratory panel test to facilitate safe cohorting, given the limited isolation facilities available. This will include tests for Covid-19 and for influenza,” it said.

Where a patient requires admission to ICU they will also have both a Covid-19 and Influenza test carried out.

In nursing homes, residential care facilities or in workplaces where there has been an outbreak of respiratory illnesses, patients or workers with symptoms should be tested for both Covid-19 and Influenza at the same time.

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In a primary care setting, as is the case now, a GP should refer a patient for a Covid-19 test if they are displaying symptoms of the virus. If symptoms worsen after a few days but the patient has received a negative result, they should be retested for Covid-19 as well as Influenza.

Finally, the HSPC has recommended that if there is any doubt as to what test should be applied, a public health risk assessment should be applied to determine of one or both of these tests should be carried out.

The number of cases of Covid-19 has risen in recent weeks as the economy continues to reopen. Public health officials are monitoring the data closely and haven’t ruled out further regional lockdowns as hospitals deal with Covid-19 and the winter flu. 

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