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Multiplex rapid tests could offer faster detection, treatment, prevention

January 31, 2023

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a predominant focus of outbreak control for long-term care (LTC) and other healthcare settings was influenza. According to IPAC Canada, the flu is ranked among the top leading causes of death in this country, resulting in 3,500 deaths and 12,200 hospitalizations each year.

That’s a big part of why researchers now seek to understand and implement rapid antigen testing (RAT) for multiple respiratory viruses at once – otherwise known as multiplex RAT. In partnership with St. Michael’s Unity Health in Toronto and funded by Health Canada, peopleCare staff and residents are participating in multiplex RAT trials that test for both COVID and Influenza A/B simultaneously. The goal is earlier detection leading to faster treatment, lower rates of transmission and reduced risk of outbreaks.

“This is a game-changer,” says Francine Paquette, peopleCare IPAC Director. “Traditionally, the turnaround time for an influenza test result has been anywhere from 2-5 days. If we can get that result in 15-30 minutes instead, we can start treatment sooner for those who are sick and immediately implement prevention methods for everyone else.”

The initiative supports multiplex RAT trials in shared living settings – such as LTC Homes – where influenza and COVID outbreaks can quickly spread. Seniors are particularly vulnerable, with IPAC Canada estimating they account for a staggering 70 to 85 per cent of flu deaths.

“It would be amazing if these multiplex rapid tests for influenza could become standard across all LTC Homes,” says Marilyn Seabrook, Director of Resident Care and IPAC Coordinator at peopleCare AR Goudie. “While the community has been focused on COVID for good reason, there are other serious viruses we’ve always had to test for separately and wait for the results. This gives us the information we need so much faster.”

Each year, peopleCare teams ramp up for an annual onsite flu vaccination campaign that results in consistently high immunization rates for both residents and staff. Even with the protection a flu shot offers, the risk of getting and transmitting the virus are not eliminated. Because the symptoms of influenza A/B are very similar to those of COVID, having this tool that can test for both illnesses at once is more efficient and supports our leading IPAC practices.

peopleCare was among the first organizations to pilot COVID RAT in Ontario in early 2021. Now, four of our LTC Homes are taking part in the multiplex RAT initiative as part of our ongoing commitment to trial, research and evaluate a range of innovations that aim to improve safety, care quality and more.

The multiplex RATs are conducted similarly to the COVID RATs, with one additional step of placing the sample into a machine that reads the results. Staff say they are incredibly easy to use, and that implementing them as a regular practice would not require any new training.

Trials are expected to continue until the end of March. Click here to learn more about peopleCare’s involvement in other innovative pilots, projects and partnerships.