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New RAT kits could test for four diseases

Australia could soon be swarming with ‘four-legged’ RATs. But before you (a) begin to panic about a rodent plague and (b) stop and ask, ‘Aren’t all rats four-legged?’, a clarification. We’re referring to those other RATs – Rapid Antigen Tests – with new versions that can test for as many as four diseases.

While there have not been many good things to come out of the pandemic, one ‘positive’ (pardon the pun) is that many Australians have become familiar with and adept at using RAT kits.

With that in mind, Australia’s medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), is assessing a number of applications for a combined home testing kit. If approved, these versions will test for COVID, influenza A and B and RSV – respiratory syncytial virus, which causes infection of the lungs and respiratory tract.

Read: What COVID does to your immune system

Some Australians will already be aware of the existence of ‘three-legged’ RATs. In September last year, the TGA approved the first two nasal combination self-tests (for use at home) that detect both COVID and influenza viral infections. These were the ‘TouchBio SARS-CoV-2 & FLU A/B Antigen Combo Test (Nasal)’ and the ‘Fanttest COVID-19/Influenza A&B Antigen Test Kit’.

The approval of a kit that also tests for RSV could be seen as another step in the evolution of RATs. But according to Australian Medical Association (AMA) vice president Dr Danielle McMullen, that step will only come after the TGA conducts a strict assessment for accuracy.

The benefit for older Australians

Assuming the new kits pass that test, Dr McMullen says they would be most useful for older or vulnerable Australians, who could use the results to access antivirals for COVID and influenza.

Read: RAT test warning over extreme temperatures

There may also be benefits in identifying influenza and RSV in babies and young children, who are more susceptible to falling severely ill from those conditions, Dr McMullen said.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia president Trent Twomey also sees potential benefits of a four-way test, but only if appropriate treatments are readily available to those who test positive.

Without that availability, Mr Twomey said, the introduction of the test could add a further burden to an already strained healthcare system. “What we don’t want is somebody to have to then go and chase around for a GP appointment to get the antiviral for influenza, or to get the treatment for COVID-19, or to get the puffer or inhaler if it’s RSV,” he said.

Read: What we now know about long COVID and our brains

Mr Twomey says a patient who tests positive for any of the four conditions should be able to obtain appropriate treatment directly via a pharmacy – without seeing a GP – and then go straight home to recover.

Speaking on Sydney radio station 2GB last week, Mr Twomey said: “It’s really important with these antivirals to initiate treatment within the first 24 to 36 hours and more often than not people can’t get an appointment [with a GP] when they need to start treatment.”

No indication of the cost of these tests has yet been given, if indeed they are approved for Australian use, but European suppliers are selling them for around the $10 mark.

Have you been using RAT kits for COVID? Would you use the four-way kits if approved? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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