The criteria for who can get a test has been expanded in Australia with the arrival of new testing kits. (Reuters: Lindsey Wasson)
We’ve all seen the videos of the testing kit for coronavirus where the really long swab is put down the back of a person’s throat.
That method is still the best early-detection test.
Those are globally in short supply, and additionally, Australia is set to receive a shipment of 1.5 million “finger-prick” or “point-of-care” coronavirus testing kits “within days”, according to the office of the Chief Medical Officer.
To put that figure in context, so far in Australia — which is said to have among the world’s highest rate of testing per capita — over 180,000 people have been tested, at a rate of around 10,000 per day.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the new kits would be particularly useful for health workers who were concerned they may have caught the virus.
“They will allow us to assist with greater testing of health workers themselves to give them the confidence and — where appropriate — patients,” he said.
Mr Hunt said the tests had only been recently approved for use by the health department, and that the finger-prick tests would be carried out by doctors and nurses in a general-practice setting.
The criteria for who can get tested was expanded on Wednesday, and it’s possible the criteria will change further following the delivery of the new kits.
Further, the Government has now allowed states and territories the discretion to expand their own criteria for testing where they have capacity to do so.
To be tested, you must meet one of the following criteria:
- You have returned from overseas in the past 14 days or spent time on a cruise ship, and you develop respiratory illness, with or without fever
- You have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days and you develop respiratory illness, with or without fever
- You have severe community-acquired pneumonia and there is no clear cause (including patients who have already been hospitalised for this condition)
- You have a fever or acute respiratory infection and you work in the healthcare or aged/residential care sectors, or you have spent time in a location that’s defined by a state or territory as having an elevated risk of community transmission, or you have spent time at a “high-risk” location where there are two or more linked cases of COVID-19, such as an aged-care home, a remote Aboriginal community, a correctional facility, a boarding school, or a military base (including Navy ships) with live-in accommodation.
How good are the finger-prick tests going to be?
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said the finger-prick test was a much more rapid way of testing but would only show a positive test in patients who had already been infected for 5-7 days.
“It is going to be more useful in terms of determining whether you’ve had the infection and can return to work,” Dr Bartone said.
“The other tests, [like the] expert gene [swab] test, [will] actually really speed up the frontline detection at the point of where you want to start treatment.”
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Principal Medical Officer Michael Kidd from the office of the Chief Medical Officer said the finger-prick tests would be rapidly distributed across the country.
“You will have a finger prick, drop of blood onto the test kit. We will get a result back very quickly, while you’re there with your doctor or with your nurse, and then be able to provide you with advice,” Professor Kidd said.
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But he said that because of the lag time in showing a positive or negative test result for COVID-19, the test would mainly be used for those who already had symptoms.
“It won’t really help us in people who have been in contact but are currently asymptomatic or if the contact has been very recent,” he said.
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