Double strength: BD able to check for COVID and influenza with same test

Exec says company is ready for increased need for testing during upcoming ‘cold and flu’ season

Pipette with drop of color liquid and petri dishes

You’re going to see the phrase more and more moving forward: A person must show proof of being vaccinated … or proof of a recent negative test. It could apply to the workplace, schools or public places such as restaurants or entertainment venues.

Some are asking if this can be allowed. Few are asking the more important question: Will there be enough tests available for those who have not been vaccinated?

Dr. Jeff Andrews. (File photo)

Dr. Jeff Andrews, vice president of global medical affairs at BD, said the need for tests certainly is on the rise. But Andrews said the Franklin Lakes-based company is ready.

“The idea of predicting what was going to happen with this pandemic was very difficult, so we made sure that our production capability could meet or overmatch what the demand would be,” he said “Of course, we didn’t know there was going to be a Delta surge right now. But we’re definitely prepared for that.”

Andrews said BD not only has been preparing for a surge in testing — a need Andrews said will be great globally for many years — but he said BD has created an antigen test that can rapidly test for both COVID-19 and influenza at the same time. It’s something he predicts will be of growing need.

One benefit of last fall and winter’s COVID-fighting restrictions, especially social distancing, made it one of the lightest flu seasons on record. This flu season, with society more open, the chance of getting the flu is much greater. And while, in the past, many people have self-diagnosed the flu, this year there will be a push for more testing — if for no other reason that to know if you have the flu or COVID.

Andrews said BD’s combo test not only will help those feeling ill be properly diagnosed, but it will help those who have been exposed to someone who is ill to know if they need to be quarantined. The greatest impact of this could be in schools, he said.

“In some states, in order to avoid your child being out of school for 10 days if they’ve been exposed to another child who tested positive, some states — like Utah, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington — have offered testing so that your child can be tested even on the same day and come back into the school rather than being out.”

Being able to test for the flu at the same time is more than a bonus, Andrews said. For many, it could be a life saver.

“As a clinician, when there’s a patient in front of you with flu-like symptoms, there’s an overlap between COVID and the flu and RSV and the common cold,” he said. “And, when they’re all co-circulating in the community at the same time, you can’t distinguish that without a test.”

Andrews said BD’s antigen test, which was granted Emergency Use Authorization, can produce a result in 15 minutes — which brings treatment benefits.

A quick result is important if it comes back as the Delta variant of COVID, Andrews said.

“They’re saying it can spread from one person to eight people,” he said. “So, if you find the infection early, and quarantine, you can save a set of people from being infected.”

Andrews said the benefits for those who have influenza are great, too.

“With the advent of some medication that can be used for the flu, it’s possible that the patient and the clinician want to confirm that diagnosis before going on that medication,” he said. “And the medication needs to be given early in the course of illness to help. And that’s where the rapid test comes in. Because you can get the result in 15 minutes and start the medication. Whereas, if you use a lab test, it could be a couple of days.”

While many have self-diagnosed for the flu in the past, Andrews said the number of influenza tests used in the past may be greater than people realize.

“In the 2019-2020 flu season, during the winter that COVID began but hadn’t taken over our lives yet, the CDC reported there were 3.8 million flu illnesses — those are documented cases with a positive test,” he said. “So, there were at least that many tests done. And, that year, there were 22,000 deaths.”

“If you go back a couple decades, you’ll find some years where there were more deaths than that. So, influenza is an important illness, especially in the very young, in the very old. And testing is important when someone needs a health care intervention.”