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CMO: Sending symptomatic children to school based on antigen test results 'very concerning'

The CMO said it is “a really concerning practice”.

Image: Sam Boal

THE CHIEF MEDICAL Officer has warned against parents sending children back to school if they are symptomatic based on a ‘not detected’ antigen test result. 

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Tony Holohan said “a really concerning practice” had come to health officials’ attention recently. 

The CMO was speaking in the context of Tuesday’s announcement, which included a new policy of increasing the use of antigen tests, advising that they be used by fully vaccinated people who are deemed to be close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case, but who have no symptoms.

Dr Holohan reiterated his position that antigen tests are not as accurate as PCR tests, and that concerns remain about people self-administering these tests. 

He said the evidence to support the widespread use of antigen tests remains mixed. 

“Our nearest neighbours the UK are probably the most prolific users of antigen tests, and have the greatest challenge in terms of infection that the Western world has seen,” he said.

The CMO warned that parents sending children back to school based on a ‘not detected’ antigen test result means public health teams are potentially not identifying positive cases of Covid-19 and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), the symptoms of which can include runny nose, fever, cough, short periods without breathing, difficulty eating, drinking and swallowing, wheezing, and flaring of nostrils.

While there have not been any confirmed cases of flu so far in the season, the HPSC has said that RSV activity in Ireland is “at higher levels than usually observed at this time of year”.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, such as a cough but can lead to bronchiolitis in infants. 

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronan Glynn referenced RSV in his comments last week about increased social mixing leading to greater opportunities to transmit respiratory infections

Dr Holohan said it was concerning that parents who are symptomatic, or whose children are symptomatic, would self-administer an antigen test “and then on the assumption of a negative test…[send] their children into school.”

“So if individuals have symptoms the advice is not an antigen test, restrict your movements and get a PCR test.”

NPHET on Monday said that given the high incidence of Covid-19 in the community, the HSE should implement a programme of antigen testing, followed by PCR confirmation of positive cases, for fully vaccinated people who are deemed to be close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case, but who have no symptoms.

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